Smile Politely

End of the line, News-Gazette

In order for you to really understand the reason for the title of this article, you should start by familiarizing yourself with the unresolved death of UIUC graduate Cristian Zamora. Furthermore, please note that the following article posted below was published in The News-Gazette’s online edition at 3:20 p.m. on Friday May 1, 2015. I’ve pasted the screenshots here as I am not going to link to this particular story, as it doesn’t deserve one more single click:

So, a quick recap here, in two parts:

  • Cristian Zamora was found dead in Crystal Lake Park under frozen ice this past March. The toxicology reports came back in from the Champaign County Coroner’s office and it indicated that he had marijuana metabolites in his system at the time of his death.

OK, nothing really to see here, sadly. It’s kind of ridiculous that this is news, but hey, The News-Gazette has a vested interest in reporting all they can when it comes to this sort of thing. I mean, I clicked on it, you know? And as such, they made money from advertising, which helps them pay for this sort of reporting. The News-Gazette sells their ads based on number of impressions, and not by length of time. The more clicks, the faster the ads shuffle through, and so it goes. Unpaid space is filled with GoogleAds, and that’s the game, for most publications.

  • Someone at the News-Gazette, presumably the journalist whose byline appears at the top of the article, Tracy Moss, called the victim’s mother and aunt, to ask them about said findings.

I need for you to really stop for a moment and consider this action. The reality of it. Please take a true moment to really process what happened here:

A phone rings, and someone answers — a mother who is grieving — and on the other end of the horn, a newspaper reporter is asking a her to respond to these findings. Her son was found to have had smoked marijuana in the months leading up to his death. How do you feel about it? Did you know?

Thus far, Cristian Zamora’s death is a mystery: how it happened, why it happened. Last week, at some point, Tracy Moss presumably also called Zamora’s aunt, to ask the same question.

Essentially, The News-Gazette interrogated the bereaved, looking for answers, about nothing.  

Think about everyone who might have taken part in something like this. The reporter, their editor, the copywriter, the publisher.

And then more importantly, the mother and aunt of the deceased, and the rest of his family.

I guess my question to Ms. Moss and the rest of the people at The News-Gazette, is simple: “What did you want to hear?”

I emailed the author of the article, and the Executive Editor of the News-Gazette, Jim Rossow, to ask them for a rationale about publishing the article, but moreover, about their decision to call the victim’s family to ask them questions about this particular topic.

They haven’t responded to my queries. 

To the both of them, and to any of the people that had a hand in this particular story being published:

For shame.

Zamora’s mother, who is paraphrased above, said it all.

Even with the benefit of the doubt, which is to say that no one considered just how horrific an action this might be, they continued to proceed.


Do none of them have children? Have any of them ever lost a child? Do any of them know someone who has lost a child? Did any of them consider the kind of pain this family must be going through right now? Did any of them, for even a moment, stop to consider anything outside of their bullshit job, placing it above the family because of a completely irrelevant toxicology report that had literally nothing to do with the loss of a life?

A friend of mine, Danielle Chynoweth, made more than a few salient points, when she posted on Facebook this weekend, about the article in question:

Time and again the News Gazette digs into the background of non-white victims, running irrelevant facts, sometimes as headlines, to dismiss the humanity of the person victimized.

You did this with Allen Redding, victim of murder, when you ran his criminal background. 

And today you did it again by insinuating that Zamora’s death was his own fault as a result of a character defect — doing a recreational drug that is now legal in a number of states. We know that marijuana metabolites stay in the body for months. Unless the coroner ruled marijuana is cause of death, it is simply bad journalism to make that the center of the story, much less the headline.

The fact that Tracy called the poor Aunt of this deceased child asking her if she knew he smoked pot is really the the deepest of insults to this family. When I die will you call my son and ask him about all my character faults? (I have many).

I am writing to say: stop this malicious trend in your paper, write a story about the humanity of this young person, and issue an apology to his family.”

Earlier this week, Smile Politely allowed one of our writers to publish the mugshots of three people to help illustrate a story surrounding their arrests, regarding a similar subject matter: marijuana metabolites. It’s apropos for us, and it drew ire from one of our writers, and as such, we are discussing a change of policy to disallow  “mugshots” of any kind from here on out.

I can accept that mistakes are made, and that policy changes need to be enacted, and contrition needs to be shown. Publishing is not easy, but that does not exonerate any of us from owning our errors, especially when they are as egregious as the one that The News-Gazette made this past Friday.

To that end, I’ve started a petition on to ask the News-Gazette to print an apology to the family and friends of Cristian Zamora immediately.

You can sign that here, if you wish. 

It’s not as though I believe anything will come of it. Our local daily has an ugly history of printing some of the worst kinds of crap this side of the toilet. They know this story will be washed away in the 24-hour news cycle, and most of us will move on to something more immediate and seemingly more profound.

But for the mother and family and friends of the deceased — their lives forever changed — regardless of the circumstances that surrounded his passing, regardless of whatever horrible article the News-Gazette decides to publish next, the memory of Cristian Zamora won’t be diminished.

No, not ever, perhaps. Not for them. 

The memory of Cristian Zamora will live forever.

As such, it demands the respect of those choosing to discuss it.

I’m looking at you, News-Gazette. Jim, Jeff, John? Are you reading this? Yes, you are.  
Try showing some humility next time. You’d be wise to own up to your flaws, for once. Show us you can do it. 

Your move. 

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