Just doing our job
Last week, this newspaper published a story about a Eureka Springs man who has been arrested on multiple charges including rape and kidnapping.
Our decision to publish that story (thatís actually misleading, as there was never any consideration of not publishing it) sparked a strong reaction from the accusedís friends and family. For the record, I wrote the story and I stand behind it.
At least one person questioned whether it was legal for us to publish the story; another suggested it was unethical for us to do so before the case is adjudicated; another opined that we were paid to publish the story.
To clarify those points, there was nothing illegal or unethical about the way that we handled the story and our handling of the story was subject to exactly zero outside influence.
Iíd also like to respond to those who jumped to the conclusion that the alleged victim contacted us, or vice versa. We have had absolutely no conversations or communication with the alleged victim ó or the alleged offender.
Thereís actually quite a mundane explanation for how we became aware of the story, and how it was reported. It begins with the intake log from the Carroll County Detention Center. That document is a public record, and we review it on a daily basis. When the alleged offenderís name appeared on the intake log along with the charges for which he was booked into the jail, it caught our eye because of the seriousness of the charges. Our next step was to search court records for documents related to the case. Initially, the only public document available to us was a petition for an order of protection filed by the alleged victim. That document includes the alleged victimís narrative outlining the allegations, and it served as the primary source for our original story.
Later, we were able to obtain a copy of an affidavit for the alleged offenderís arrest ó again, a public record ó and included some information from that document in an updated story that was published in the June 6 issue of the Lovely County Citizen. There is a great deal of information from that document that we did not include in the updated story, including extremely graphic descriptions of the alleged crime.
To be crystal-clear, we have not reported that the alleged offender is guilty of the charges against him. We have reported information that is available in public documents. We will continue to cover the case as it develops. If the alleged offender is acquitted, that too will be front-page news.
Itís worth noting that the police detective who investigated the case believed there was sufficient probable cause to arrest the alleged offender, and a judge believed there was sufficient cause to issue an arrest warrant. Another judge believed there was sufficient probable cause to charge the alleged offender.
This isnít the first time friends or family members of an alleged offender have questioned our reporting about a given incident. Nor is it the first time our reporting has spawned a Facebook hen party regarding the ethics of journalism. My knowledge of that topic is limited to the nearly 30 years Iíve spent making my living as a journalist; perhaps I should defer to the Facebook expert who suggested we be reported to the Associated Press, because it has ďvery strict guidelinesĒ about abbreviations, etc. (For the record, the Associated Press is a news agency that provides content to its ďmembersĒ for a fee; it has no authority over editorial decisions of a particular newspaper. We are not a member of the Associated Press, since the goal is for all of our content to be local.) I would absolutely love to listen to that phone call.
Our responsibility as a newspaper is to inform our readers of what is going on in their community ó the good, the bad and the ugly. Sometimes that means reporting stories that some people donít like. That makes me, and this newspaper, unpopular in some circles. Thatís a shame, but I learned long ago not to be too concerned about what other people think of me.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, we are going to report the news. Some folks might not like it, but the minute we begin ignoring legitimate news stories is the minute we begin losing our credibility.
The standard for whether a news story is legitimate isnít whether or not the subject of the story is a decent guy, or has children, or even whether some people believe he is innocent. The standard is whether there are reportable, newsworthy facts that can be backed up with documentation. In this case, the facts are that a man was arrested and charged, and those facts are documented public record. If thatís not newsworthy, I donít know what is.