For victims like Brookfield boy, how much do we report?

By Todd Franko

If your house gets broken into, how much detail should The Vindicator report to the community? Your address? Your name? Contents taken?

Make the victimization even more personal:

If you are mugged, how much of the incident should The Vindicator report to the community? Your injuries? Your name?

Take the crime to a more tragic level, and, specifically, consider a case that has been in The Vindicator this week: How much information should the community know when a child has been abused?

An 8-year-old boy’s tales of two years of torment at the hands of his stepfather was unearthed this week in Brookfield Township. It’s tragic: The boy told officers he’d had his hand shut in a door, was hit with a belt and baseball bat, and had fingers stuck down his throat. Police saw black eyes, bruises, a cut and a bump on the back of the child’s head.

It was a neighbor’s call that finally got police involved in the case.

The stepfather, Damion Wise, 30, of 5961 Everett East Road, was arrested. He had another charge of domestic violence already against him and was sentenced to one year for that Thursday. These new charges could net him 16 additional years, if convicted.

That this case emanated from a neighbor’s concern is the part of media reporting that satisfies Dr. Paul McPherson, medical director of the Youngstown child advocacy center for Akron Children’s Hospital.

That is what the public needs to know, he said — that they can have a role in saving a child and it can be anonymous and it can halt a tragedy.

He also said the public should know the magnitude of the boy’s injuries as it helps convey the seriousness of such cases.

But, McPherson has a concern with media reports that named the child and showed photos of his body.

All area TV and newspapers have used the photos.

Use of the boy’s name has been mixed.

We used it in our initial online report, but not in print. It’s since been removed from the original online report. The boy’s name has been used consistently by the Tribune-Chronicle and WYTV/WKBN. The Sharon Herald has named him. I could not determine whether WFMJ used the name.

McPherson said such knowledge will prolong the boy’s exposure and thus prolong the challenge of treating the mental effects of abuse.

“Kids can easily come up to him in school and say, ‘Hey dude, can I see your bruises?’” said McPherson.

“When it comes to physical abuse, not only do kids have physical abuse, we also see emotional-health issues. They’re embarrassed, ashamed, feel guilty and confused.

“So in treating them, we not only work with broken bones; also, we want them to heal mentally. Anything that can prolong the mental-health challenges becomes a problem.”

He would have preferred that the boy’s name as well as the police photos of the injuries be omitted from media reports.

I absolutely agree on the name. I have to ponder his advice on the photos.

And that’s an illustration of the nature of media.

There is no perfect answer for what’s enough or not enough. The definition varies from company to company. As a reader/viewer, when you’re in an extensive media market such as ours, you get to watch, measure — and ultimately choose what style you like and don’t like.

The standard of what’s enough or not enough also changes with time.

I’ve been in the field for 25 years. When I started, the standard was that we printed every victim’s name except for sexual-assault victims and suicides in a private setting.

But in the last 10 years, extensive debate and study has moved some media professionals to allowing more privacy for crime victims as they recover.

Clearly, there’s room for more debate and study.

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