We’ve repeatedly stated that journalism can be a thankless job.
Complaints far outnumber compliments in this industry, and we’re constantly battling self-appointed experts and “citizen journalists” (we loathe the term) to present the whole story, as well as associated commentary.
Daily we set aside personal beliefs and biases (editorials and columns aside, of course) to ensure news coverage is as objective as possible.
From time to time, readers will send a private inquiry about a decision we made on news coverage. We welcome such inquiries and always try to provide an explanation.
Yet sometimes it can be helpful to provide for all readers a more detailed, behind-the-scenes account of what leads to newsroom decisions.
Last March, during a domestic dispute in Erin, a man uttered threats to two female family members and discharged a firearm.
One of the females, aged 16, “sustained minor injuries after being struck by a bullet ricochet,” police stated. The man, 58, was arrested and faces numerous charges.
At the time, members of our newsroom had a thorough debate about whether or not to publish the name of the man. Police withhold the name of those accused in domestic disputes in order to protect the identity of the victim – and newspapers generally follow suit.
Admittedly, this case was different, given the unique incident and the accused’s standing as a (former) public figure.
After careful consideration, and despite attending the accused’s first court appearance, we felt protecting the identity of an underage victim was paramount and decided not to print the name of the accused.
Other media outlets in the region made the same decision, despite knowing full well the man’s identity.
Thus we were surprised last week when one county newspaper reversed course and identified the man, complete with a close-up photo of his smiling face.
“(Man) facing charges after gunshot injures teen,” read the headline, suggesting the newspaper had a great news “scoop,” despite the charges being almost a year old.
The case is indeed due back in court soon, and yes, most people in the community already know who the man is, but we remain steadfast in our belief the media has a duty to protect the identity of innocent victims, particularly young ones.
We don’t see how the passage of a year or the perception of having an exclusive article, however unfounded, absolves us of that responsibility.
We don’t like to belabour controversies, particularly those that upset people in the community (on both sides), but we feel it is important to update the public on a recent complaint filed against the Advertiser with the National NewsMedia Council (NNC).
The complainant argued the newspaper’s editing of her letter to the editor (Arts vs. arena, Feb. 7), changed its “tone” and “[created] a different emphasis,” thus marring her reputation in the community.
The NNC decided not to act on the complaint, stating the “edit” described by the complainant (a paragraph break) is “more accurately viewed as a formatting matter. For this reason we find no breach of journalistic standards …”
The Advertiser appreciates all letters received from readers and we do our best to include each one. However, this recent red herring provides a great opportunity to remind readers how things work.
As the NNC notes on its website, “newspapers have the right to edit [letters] for length, clarity, legal or other reasons, or may choose not to publish it at all.”
We can assure readers that careful effort is always taken to ensure editing is kept to a minimum, and that all edits, regardless of reason, do not alter the tone/message of letters.
It’s yet another responsibility trained journalists take on daily – and one we take very seriously.