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I think that it is unwise for publications to publish information about ‘people of interest’ in high profile cases, especially considering that is not the norm. As it said in one of the articles, police are already under a lot of pressure to come up with suspects and therefore an innocent person can seem like a guilty person for a time. The media have to be careful about following police reports exactly because, as the second article pointed out, readers may not fully realize what ‘person of interest’ means and can jump to conclusions of their own.
What do I think editors should think about in making fairness calls? Well, editors should first think about why they want to publish such information so early. If it is a high profile case there can be a feeling that as much news as possible should be published quickly. However, it isn’t fair to give an impression that someone is guilty when he or she may be cleared of all charges. In that case, the information published about that person may seem relevant and newsworthy at the time, but can cause years of hardship.
The best solution for editors is to stop and think if they would want their own name published in such a fashion when there is, at that time, little backing. The language regarding the suspect or ‘person of interest’ in the article is also something for editors to watch out for. If it is as flimsy of a characterization as ‘person of interest’ it should definitely not be used. It is best to wait until there is action taken by police, such as an arrest, or a conviction. In general, leaving names out of articles while police are still unsure of the results is the safest choice. In this way, the news outlets can keep readers and viewers hooked in as updates occur. The story can last longer while maintaining interest without anyone’s name being abused.
Beyond making a decision about publishing or not publishing, are there other fairness factors an editor should look for when editing even routine stories? What are they?
I believe when releasing someone’s name in print, it needs to be told that they are merely ‘ a person of interest’ and not guilty right away. Like in the NPR article, the two men were people of interest, but their lives were ruined for an extended amount of time, and neither of them were even convicted of anything. I just think the publication needs to go out of its way to notify the public that the individuals are not the the guilty party.
Have you seen stories published that you think were unfair? Tell me about them and why you thought they were unfair?
No stories immediately come to mind that were unfair to the extent that the NPR article illustrated, but I have seen unfair articles in different contexts. When we won the state championship in bowling a few years ago, the news coverage on local news channels only gave attention to the Lincoln team that we beat. Granted, we were from Columbus and beat that Lincoln team, but I felt as though we were sort of brushed to the side when we were the winners and deserved some attention too. It mentioned Lincoln players by name and told all about the runner-ups, but when watching the news cast in Columbus, none of our names were mentioned or brought up. It was just noted that we had won.
I know this wasn’t exactly the context of the other stories, but I did think it was a good example of news coverage not always being fair, or noting what should be noted.
ndividual judgment calls are necessary when it comes to publishing the name of a suspect. I agree with Alicia Shepard about the Yale case. Since the police department announced the suspect at a press conference, it was OK for the media to publish his name. Generally, I do not think suspect’s names should be printed. Printing the name of someone who may not be guilty could have detrimental consequences for the suspect and the media. The media could face a libel lawsuit; the suspect could be shunned from his or her community. If a person’s name is associated with a crime, usually people assume that person is guilty. Many times people do not hear the ending results of a police investigation. If the person is not guilty, he or she may have a hard time finding a job or lose friends due to a damaged reputation. A good example of this is Richard Jewell. People shunned him, harassed him and his life changed for the worse.
When editors are deciding whether or not to print a name, editors should consider the impacts of printing the name. Another thing to consider is how the name was obtained (police, word of mouth, etc.) Editors should be cautious to print names of suspects because there is no guarantee the suspect will be arrested or charged. I think only people who are arrested or charged with a crime should be reported about.
Have you seen stories published that you think were unfair? Tell me about them and why you thought they were unfair?
Yes. On many occasions I’ve read stories that I think were not fairly reported. No significant stories come to mind. Today I read a story about President Barack Obama’s push for year-round schooling. The reporter clearly didn’t like this idea. The article started off with a statement that imposed fear of losing vacation time. The reporter failed to report the benefits of year-round schooling until the very end of the article. This is not like the examples we read about, but it was still unfair reporting. The reader should never know what the reporter thinks about a hard news story.
I do not think that it is a good idea for newspapers or any other news outlets to publish stories that name someone a “person of interest.” This can greatly damage a person’s reputation, when there is a decent chance that they are not responsible for what the news outlet says they did. In the cases of Richard Jewell and Dr. Steven J. Hatfill, the crimes that they were accused of were very serious crimes. Having their names attached to the horrible crimes greatly damaged their reputation, even though neither of the men was actually charged with the crime.
It is insane that something like this would change your life so much. I would feel as though my life was ruined if this happened to me. No matter how much money you get from a lawsuit, your reputation can never be completely fixed. Writers and editors need to think about how they would feel if they were this person. A “person of interest” is not a formal legal term, and I do not really think it means much in regards to being responsible for a crime. If a person were named a “suspect” of a crime, I would definitely publish it.
Some other things to think about before publishing a story that accuses a person of something are if the source is reliable, how to word the story, and what the person is being accused of. I currently cannot think of any unfair stories that I have read, but I am sure that I have read several. I do not think too much about fairness when reading or listening to news stories, unless I know the person they are talking about. It definitely is something writers and editors need to keep in mind as they publish a story.
An editor needs to look for information in a story that could possibly hurt a person unintentionally. Of course, if the story is about a man who was found guilty of murder, then it is okay to print the name of the man. However, I think editors need to walk a fine line when identifying people of interest. Editors should strongly consider two consequences: the person identified might never be able to return to a normal life, and the newspaper could be sued.
A fresh story about a murder can still be informative and successful without having to mention a person of interest’s name. Editors should make sure their journalists focus on details of the crime first, such as where, what, why and how. Now that newspapers post breaking stories and details online, they can always edit the story to say a person’s name once the police identify him or her as a suspect.
In Alicia Shepard’s column concerning the Yale case, she said Stuart Seidel, deputy managing editor of NPR, was cautious in using Raymond Clark’s name. Seidel made sure reporters noted in their stories that “Clark had not been charged and was released after questioning.” If I were an editor in this position and the name had been released by the AP, I’d want my reporters to take it a step further and define what “a person of interest” is and what a “suspect” is so the readers understand.
These tough calls don’t just apply to suspects, but victims as well. Today in the paper I read about a woman who was groped by three high school boys. The story reported the sentencing of the boys and the journalist only referred to the woman as “the victim.” This was a good call by the editors and the writer. They are protecting her privacy because she probably doesn’t want people to recognize her in public and know she was sexually assaulted.
I feel that editors should not publish any information on a ‘person of interest’. I do believe that it is the editors right to publish it if a name has been made public but I do not think the information is valid enough to do so. Yes, there is a possible suspect. No, there is not enough information on the case regarding the ‘person of interest’.
When an editor is presented with information like the Yale story or the Jewell case, he or she needs to consider if there is enough information to support an entire story. Not only this, but he or she needs to consider how this could affect the ‘person of interest’. This person has not been convicted of a crime yet, they are simply somewhat involved in the case. The editor has to be careful because if the person is never convicted their paper’s credibility could be at stake.
I also think an editor should make sure they think like a reader. Most readers when they see ‘person of interest’ might think that person is convicted. Though it does not directly say that in the writing it is leaning in that direction. Editors need to make sure that it is clearly stated that the ‘person of interest’ has not been convicted.
I feel the best thing an editor can do is to make sure all the facts are correct and to make sure a story is relevant to the area their paper is made for. Like I said before, an editor does not want to jeopardize the paper’s credibility and look dumb. And if a story is not going to directly affect anyone in the community it is the job of the editor to decide if it is worth printing.
There is a story about three boys from my high school who sexually assaulted their friend’s mother. One of the boys was convicted yesterday after a lengthy trial while the two others were left free of any charges. The Omaha World Herald really made it seem like it was only one boy’s fault when another had barely got off his charges. I feel it was unfair for the one boy to be focused on so heavily when all three boys were on trial for this crime.
When editors make “fairness” decisions it is my belief that erring on the side of caution is the best policy. When a person is publicly deemed a “person of interest” by the police it is certainly fair to publish that information. However, in more controversial situations, like when you are privately informed of someone being a “person of interest,” further consideration is in order. In these situations the reporter and editor hold in their hands not only their reputations but also the life of the person in question.
Along with the possibility of lawsuits newspapers have the power to destroy the life of an innocent man if they publish information that is “unfair.” To keep the situation safe I believe the identity of a “person of interest” should not be published unless it is publicly announced. Even after being publicly announced editors must be very careful that the phrasing does not incriminate the “person of interest.”
I believe telling a balanced and objective story also falls under the category of “fairness” in a news story. Regarding this aspect I cannot recall a single story, but I know that on a daily basis FOX reports stories with a conservative slant, and NBC reports the same stories with a liberal slant. This biased journalism perpetuates the two-party system we have in America and drives the people of the nation into choosing a side. While stories like this rarely ruin an individual’s life it does have the effect of splitting the American people rather than unifying us.
When editors make decisions as to the fairness of a story I think they need to consider the source of the information, how it was gathered, and what the impact of its publication will be.
Reporter’s sources motives should be be questioned when information damaging to another person is offered by the source. If the source wants to remain anonymous, why and why do they think this information needs to be published. It could be that the source simply has a grudge against the other person. Editors in this situation should make sure their reporters have checked their facts before deciding to publish such information. The same issues are present concerning how the information was gathered. If a reporter misrepresents themselves to gain information that a source might not normally provide to a reporter, then that information should be considered for publication carefully.
Considering impact is important because of the examples of the Richard Jewel case. Jewel was never charged but ended up living the last decade of his life as though he had been convicted.
When making “fairness” calls about stories, I think editors should first of all consider if anyone in the stories is going to be hurt, whether intentionally or unintentionally. Editors should consider the credibility of their sources. Editors should never publish a suspect’s name when the information comes from anyone other than police representatives. Editors should make it clear to readers the status of the people being investigated. Statements like, “Clark had not been charged with a crime and had been released from New Haven police custody” and “Clark has been described as a person of interest, not a suspect” in the Yale case have to be included in the story for clarification purposes. Editors should also explain the difference between “a person of interest” and a suspect to readers.
Editors should consider if a person gets enough credit for his/her contribution in routine stories. Other than that, editors should never take a side in a story. When editing for a campaign report for example, the editor should make sure that the reporter is not encouraging the readers to participate in the campaign he/she is reporting on. He/she should quote the messages that his/her sources are trying to convey instead of putting them in his/her own words.
I have seen a few stories published in my hometown’s newspapers that I thought were unfair. One of it was when the Indonesian media labeled Malaysia as an exporter of terrorists just because a Malaysian masterminded a bombing in Bali. I think it is unfair because I had lived in Malaysia for nine years and I know Malaysia is a peace-loving country for the most part. Plus, the country itself has never experienced a terrorist attack since its independence, let alone a bombing that is a commonplace in Indonesia.
The New York Times column on Mr. Jewell explains of the media ruining his life. I agree that all media outlets should have waited until either Jewell was indicted or he was cleared from all questioning.
Sure, it is only fair to inform the public about what’s going on, but the public will make up their own assumptions after the media are done reporting. The media ruined Richard Jewell’s life. The public, on the other hand, made his life a living hell.
This story reminds me of the simple doctrine of “innocent until proven guilty” that was brought up in Beat Reporting last year. During the 2007 Duke Lacrosse sexual assault case, three defendants were accused of sexually assaulting a stripper at a party. The story exploded when the media made it known that three defendants were privileged white males and the accuser was a poor black female.
New organizations ran with the case for more than a year, and everyone from newspaper columnists to big-name talk show hosts demonized the three students. When the Judge threw the case out citing of lack of evidence, the media sure looked stupid.
“Innocent until proven guilty” is the only fair way to report on crimes, because like the Duke case, anything can happen.
In the case of Raymond Clark III, it was a risky decision to identify him before he was charged. I do agree with the decision because the police chief had already held a public press conference releasing Clark’s name and identifying him as a “person of interest.” Another reason I think the article was fair is because it clearly stated that he had not been charged or arrested for the death of Annie Le. The editor should consider if the name of the “person of interest” has already been publicly announced and whether he or she is the only the person that police are investigating. I cannot think of any stories that I have seen published that I consider unfair, except for the case of Richard Jewell. This case was especially unfair because in the days following the bombing, when Jewell was only considered “a person of interest,” the press made assumptions about his character, stating that he “ fit the profile of a lone bomber.” This is a dangerous line for an editor to cross, I do not think it is ever appropriate for the media to make such assumptions and print them as if it were fact.
Questions of fairness are some of the hardest to make in the journalism business. As exemplified a careless decision can ruin someone’s life, like Mr. Jewell or the main character in the movie “Absence of Malice.”
Just the other night I saw Rod Blagojevich on the Jon Stewart show, and he was making the claim that he had been mistreated in the press. To many, including myself, it sounded absurd. But, after previous incidences I had to wonder if it might end up being true. In the covering of trials and crimes it is hard to be fair because one a name is associated with a crime guilt or innocence rarely matters.
The public has a right to know who suspects are, but the police make mistakes too and suspects often turn out to be innocent. The best thing to do in these cases is to double-check all facts and proceed with caution.
The media also has to be careful in dealing with victims. Does the public have to know the details of the crime? Does the public have to see a boy beaten to death in Chicago, especially when that public includes his family? Questions like these are faced on a daily basis. An editor must be careful not to cause any more grief to families that are already suffering. But, this must be balanced with telling the public information they need to know.
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