What would you do?

reportersMany moons ago, when I was an editor at a weekly newspaper, we used to run a section in the paper that was known as the Police Notes.

It’s a common practice for smaller, local newspapers to run such police blotters, but we used to have a little fun with ours by giving each blurb a humorous sub headline,  and we never included names.

For example, a police report regarding a complaint about a neighbor’s dog doing his business in the neighbor’s yard might be titled “Canine Travels for Business” The blurb would read something like this ” An Elm Street man called police to report that a neighbor’s dog has been repeatedly defecating on his lawn.”

We sought out the most amusing police notes from the three communities we covered. More serious crimes were covered in other parts of the paper. But still, we had access to all police reports, so everything was theoretically fair game.

There are different standards when writing news stories. For example, if a city councilor were arrested for an OUI offense that story would likely be on the front page. If an average citizen were arrested for the same exact crime, it would likely end up in the police blotter without his name.

Police officers are also held to different standards than firefighters. Why? Because a police officer has authority over citizens and a sworn duty to uphold the law. A basic firefighter or public works employee has no such authority.

Bottom line: some people are treated differently by the media, most notably public officials and those who have thrust themselves into the public spotlight. An obituary for a long-time city volunteer and former school teacher would likely run longer than an obituary for someone who was not as well-known in the community.

These are always tough judgment calls for reporters and editors.

I remember one particular item that gave me pause. The adult child of a city official was arrested on a domestic violence charge.

Was this “news” simply because of the relation to a city official? I eventually decided it was not. Typically, domestic violence reports were covered in our Police Notes, not in the news section of the paper.

But if you were a newspaper editor, where would you draw the line? Do the actions of a municipal official’s relative (sibling, child or parent) warrant a news story?

What if the governor’s brother were indicted on charges of mail fraud? For me, that’s an easier question to answer.

On a higher level, the media usually keeps a clear distance when reporting on the children of the President of the United States, but President Jimmy Carter’s brother, Billy, seemed like fair game.

These are all tough judgment calls, and they become more murky as we descend lower on the authority scale. Certainly a city councilor wields much less influence than a state senator or governor.

So, I made a choice. I decided not to pursue a story about this councilor’s adult son. The action’s of the son were not directly connected to the councilor. Thus, in my opinion, it was not fair game and would be in poor taste to publish such a news story. In short, it would be sensationalism and had no impact on residents in that community.

Where do you think the media should draw a line?

I never wonder whether I made the right choice. I am as confident in my decision today as I was 13 years ago.

But what would you have done?

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4 thoughts on “What would you do?

  1. There’s no need to publicly convict someone in print (since people assume guilt even though it may not be the case). Then you have people like Lauzon who claim “safety concerns” in a seemingly veiled attempt to undermine your wife and you, through his social media posts. Clearly he doesn’t know what it means to be a parent, and that good parents support their children through good and bad times and all times in between. When the media provides fodder for sociopaths to use information to attack others, I have a huge problem with it. So yes, I think newspapers should use more discretion and think about the person they’re reporting on…after all, with digital media living on the internet, the information will be out there forever. Ten years after someone is arrested, they shouldn’t have to live with reminders of it after they’ve paid their dues, learned their lesson, been exonerated, etc. Thirty years ago you didn’t have to worry because this, since it became old news with the next week’s newspaper, but nothing is that simple anymore.

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  2. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should…

    We live in an entitled, it’s all about me, if it feels good; do it society. Little consideration is paid to anything that doesn’t affect us directly, or someone we know directly. Real World, Real Housewives, Realty (bullshit) TV, somehow has people convinced they have the right to know( it), while social media has people convinced they have the right to share (it)…. So many, too many people have come to believe that they actually have the right to do and say whatever they want – “the constitution & facebook say it’s so.” With blatant disregard for being a decent human being.

    Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should…

    Reporting news, info, events is one thing – providing a service whether informative or comedic has a valid place in our society. What doesn’t have a place, what shouldn’t have a place is the need to intentionally hurt, shame or cause chaos & havoc in someone’s life. If your motivation is to cause harm; emotional, physical or financial harm to another – you are an asshat – hide behind whatever makes you feel better, face yourself in the mirror and sleep at night.. you are still, indeed an asshat.

    Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should…

    Randy, you are conscientious in all things, you may not always have the answers, but you are always willing to listen to the questions. I know better than most your commitment to the truth, the high road, justice, and giving people the benefit of the doubt, even when it’s undeserving.

    We know who you are, we know your integrity – for those who don’t, I’d welcome you to have a conversation with Randy, he’s fairly easy to know and to like, unassuming, caring, genuine and funny! For those who question Randy and Laura – their love for their community, their family & friend, who choose NOT to get to know them, who choose to jump on the hate train… that is about YOU… not them. Again…. just because you can, doesn’t mean you should!!!

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  3. I think you made the right call, Randy. Unfortunately some editors are not as compassionate or caring about doing the right thing. It’s a shame that you’re family is being scrutinized under a microscope because of Lauzon. After all, every family has “stuff”, and I’m sure there are things he and his family would prefer not to be made public. He should be ashamed by his behavior, and in my opinion, he isn’t heeding the judge’s advice last week to be KINDER to each other. Instead it seems like he found some sort of validation to continue stirring the pot, in my opinion. He seems to have strayed from the primary issue of alleged sexual abuse, and has gotten so, so lost. Who are the people advising him? Shame on them too, if they think egging him on is helping any cause. There is no need to stoop to this level of ugliness and I applaud you and your wife for trying so hard to stay above it.

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  4. Our policy is a little different. We do publish the names of people over the age of 18 who have been arrested. I wouldn’t hold back simply because the person was a relative of someone in office; hell, I published my own editor’s name in the blotter.

    Part of the point of the police blotter is the “public stocks” effect. Those who might be shamed by having their name in print are not likely to do what it takes to get there. It won’t work on everyone, but the police blotter does tend to keep small towns, at least, somewhat civil. It doesn’t work if one thinks that having a locally famous dad or mom is a pass not to have their name in the public eye.

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