Published January 21, 2008
Today's post is directed to some folks chiming in on community blog. But if they're concerned about it, it has value for others. You can get the gist of the bloggers' complaints just reading below. But for full unerstanding, you can read the original blog thread here.
Can I join in? I'm Todd Franko, editor of The Vindicator. I'm glad we're the central point of this discussion. Despite the less than glowing words from just about everyone, I think that being part of any dialogue is better than not being part of any discussion.
Your posts are heartfelt and sincere. Like many members of the blogging community, there are some good criticisms. But there are also some points where you might think differently if I explain just a bit. Or maybe you could care less after I explain and you'll see it through the glasses you choose to wear in this matter.
-- Our story was hardly Pulitzer material, but it wasn’t intended to be. It was a simple crime story not intended to be a big deal. Despite the "bleeds it leads" beliefs that exist and are often perpetuated by some media, we try to be selective about crime coverage and when we blow it out in size. (More on that below.)
The biggest problem I see with our story is that we do not give the reader any clue if police were asked why Mr. Poland Man was not charged. “Why didn’t the police charge him?” I sure would like to know. If the the Vindy was the fault in all this “poor Mr. Poland” blogging :
-- Why no name for Mr. Poland Man? The main reason: He wasn't charged with a crime. We name criminal suspects. Poland Man may be guilty in the court of public opinion. But our standard, which pretty much flies for most legitimate media, is you are not named in criminal activity unless the police charge you with a crime and you are over age 18. While there are some exceptions to that, this incident is not one of them. It would be reckless to have a subjective routine where an editor or a reporter can make individual, subjective decisions on an hour-by-hour, incident-by-incident basis, such as in this "Well this guy's a pervert; let's name him."
-- He's also a victim — officially, as hard as it is to buy that. Access to victims' names has tightened over the years with new laws. Despite this, many times we still do have access to many names. (In this incident, I'm unsure if police even gave us Mr. Poland's name.) Whether we have it or not, we try to be more conservative with naming victims. It's an evolving trend in media compared to the rule years ago when everyone's name was printed -- criminal or victim. While it's a trend, naming a victim is still prone to some subjectivity. Example: A guy gets beat up at a bar and is hospitalized? He's not likely to be named in many newspapers. But a guy gets beat up in a classroom because he's the coach and he got in some kid's face, and is hospitalized, the guy's name is likely to run due to the public nature of the incident.
-- It's ironic that the post and the responses go on about a crime story, when many in the blogger community are critical about The Vindy and others having too much Youngstown crime coverage.
-- Someone wrote: Seems this is a call for action (perhaps from ACTION). A trip down to the Vindicator offices for a meeting with the editor seems to be in order. We had confronted this same kind of lopsided coverage a number of years ago and it had stopped for quite awhile.
Me: The issue is the police didn't charge him with a crime, not that we protected him. At least I hope that's more clear now. We're not the place to march on this one. But I don't think there's a need to march at all. If our story went that far, or if a blogger cared to call the police, we'd likely learn a good explanation why police didn't charge Poland Man.
-- Someone wrote: Typically sub-par reporting not to mention non-neutral reporting from the Vindicator.
Me: It's a non-neutral blog string. Everyone sees the blood of the Vindy and piles on. No one seemed to go to any length wondering why police didn't charge the guy. It seems a bit of "blame the messenger" and not the message creator.
-- Someone wrote: Hang the city residents out to dry.
Me: Within these posts, there seems to be a lack of trust of the police about this, and I think the two issues are being mixed. That a guy who admitted "seeking female companionship" was not charged does not mean this other guy was improperly arrested. Until I seek to know more as a blogger or journalist, I have to believe there is more going on than the detail The Vindy chose to go into.
-- Someone questioned the phrasing "female companionship"
Me: It's a unique construction, but it's more informative than to say he was just talking to women, which some media might have offered since, again, he officially committed no crime. By saying "female companionship," we're basically saying he was up to no good. But it is what it is; it's what the police offered for why he was down there.
-- Someone wrote: A friend told me that the police would rather all names be printed as a deterrent, so this was probably the reporter’s call.
Me: Police are hardly advocates for sharing names, except in higher profile incidents. In fact, over time I think it would be healthy for me to offer up how disinterested police and other officials are in having there stats and incidents put out for wider public display. Public records laws around the country, as well as individual department policies, have made it a hassle learning about crime incidents. Just last week, a reporter told me a police official told him it's not his job to get him arrest information. That is a crime.