Saturday, July 23, 2011

"Tweeting" at Funerals (Part 1)

Yesterday morning, Myra Kraft, the wife of Robert Kraft, the owner of the New England Patriots football team,  was laid to rest after a long battle with cancer.  Her funeral was at Temple Emmanuel in Newton MA and was attended by 1,000 mourners, including luminaries from the political, sports, and financial worlds.  She was, by all reports, a lovely person who embraced charitable causes near and far, working tirelessly on their behalf.  Myra Kraft was 68 years old.  May she rest in peace. "May His great name be exalted and sanctified ..."


Later in the day, I was listening to sports radio in my car and there was a huge discussion going on about the fact that a number of people who attended Myra Kraft's funeral "tweeted" during the service.*  Some were reporters, some were people who were just there.  One of the commentators was appalled, the other was basically saying, "this is the way of the world today.  Tweeting is one of the ways in which people basically communicate today.  We just have to accept it."  Callers to the show were, for the most part, opposed to "tweeting" at a funeral and they gave all kinds of reasons.  But there were still some who saw nothing wrong with it, especially at a funeral of someone who was such a public figure as Myra Kraft.  


As you can guess, I have my own opinion on all of this.  Some of this comes from my own background as having been involved in media relations and communication for the Archdiocese of Boston, the rest comes from my Catholic faith.  So here we go.


When I worked with the media, there were numerous liturgical events that were well covered by the press.  The funeral of Congressman Joe Moakley, a funeral of a serviceman killed in Afghanistan, and the installation Mass of then Archbishop Sean O'Malley come to mind, by way of example.  In many instances, the liturgy was broadcast live from inside the church with press in attendance.  The presence of the press inside the church was agreed to by the Archdiocese and the persons and families involved.  The press inside were allowed to take notes, use tape recorders and laptop computers.  But, they were also in a place, off to the side, where they could least distract from the service.  In these instances, everyone agreed to the press presence, they were there specifically as reporters to report, and there were ground rules.  If we had twitter back then, I'm sure it could have been accommodated as a reporting tool under the same rules.


Now, if the Kraft family had invited the press in to the funeral service as the press and not as mourners, if it was understood by all that they were there to report, and if they were "tweeting" as part of the "reporting," then I see no problem.  It may not be what I would like to see at a funeral but it was the family's decision.  It is also a funeral conducted within another faith community who I'm sure understand the funeral service in a different way than I do within my Catholic faith and may see nothing inappropriate about "tweeting" at a service.  I don't know.  But, if that is not the case and a reporter was there as a "mourner," and proceeded to "tweet" anyway, then I do have a problem with that because they were taking advantage of their invitation to be there as a mourner in order to report the event.  If they want to report about the funeral after it is over, by all means do so.  That's what reporters do.  If they feel that the funeral was a private event and they should respect that privacy, that's even better.  But to "tweet" or "report" during the service without the Kraft family's permission is I think a boundary issue. 


Now as far as the other "mourners" who were at the funeral and were tweeting, my question to them is "why?"  To what purpose?  What good is really being served here?  Who was being served here?  Certainly not Myra Kraft.  Certainly not her family.  "Look at me!  I'm at Myra Kraft's funeral with Donald Trump and Tom Brady!"  They can't even claim some kind of press/media, "I'm just doing my job" excuse. When the Kraft family looked out and saw the tweeters sitting there, if they noticed them at all, I think they thought they were there to show their respect and esteem for her and the Kraft family and to offer prayers and support to them.  Let me ask the tweeters this.  How would you feel if your were at your mother's or wife's funeral and you looked out and saw someone looking down at their phone and texting messages?  Well, then, why would you think this is a good idea for you to do it at someone else's loved one's funeral.  Danny Ainge, the general manager of the Boston Celtics, once said in an interview that he thought most tweeting was basically a selfish act, designed to draw attention to the person tweeting.  I think in the case of people tweeting at Myra Kraft's funeral his point was proven true.  Next time, turn off the cell phone.  No one is that important.


At this point, I think there is more to be said about people who text or tweet at ay liturgical service especially, in my case, Catholic.  Part 2 of this post will look at "tweeting at funerals"from this starting point.


*For those of you who are not familiar with "tweeting," it means basically to post messages from one's phone to your twitter account for anyone who "follows" your account to read.  As an example, I have a twitter account which right now has over 600 followers.  I "tweet" a text message from my phone and my "followers" get it.  

2 comments:

  1. I could not agree with you more, Bishop Chris. At our church, the song leader asks the church body to "turn off all electronic devices - cell phones, pagers, etc." - so we can focus on our liturgy. When did our society get like this? I was raised (not TOO many years ago!!) that it was inappropriate to whisper, let alone socialize, once we had entered the church for worship. That premise certainly does not hold true at my present church. Have all manners gone by the wayside? Am I the only one who still believes in a handwritten, heartfelt thank-you note? Please, dear Lord, bring us back to not only keeping the Sabbath holy but also keeping a prayerful reverence when at any faith gathering.

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  2. I couldn't agree with you more, especially your quote from Danny Ainge. People's boorish behavior continues to baffle me and to demonstrate it a funerals is the epitome of disrespectful behavior.

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