Yes, we have feelings, but reporters, editors also have a job to do | Publisher's Column

When you work as a reporter or editor for a newspaper, some people get the impression you have no heart, no feelings.

Case in point, a caller this week questioned why it was necessary to publish an article about her family member who was charged with a felony crime and appeared in Island County Superior Court.

Couldn’t the article at least be kept off the newspaper’s website, she asked? Don’t the feelings of the suspect’s family matter to the newspaper?

The answer to the first question is “no,” withholding an article is not an option. Picking and choosing what stories should run based on emotions is a slippery slope. As journalists, where would we draw the line? Which families should be singled out for such special consideration?

Once a case arrives in court, I explained, it is in a public arena. Prosecutors are essentially telling a judge they believe there’s sufficient evidence to warrant a conviction.

Courtrooms are open for a reason — the public has a justified interest in knowing that justice is properly served in court, regardless of age, station in life or familial ties.

In response to the second question, I said, “Yes, we do think about the impact of a story on the suspect’s family. We also think about the victim and their family.”

However, committing a crime is usually a conscious decision. Ultimately, it’s up to the accused to spare his or her family the embarrassment that comes from breaking the law.

I told the caller about my journalistic beginnings as a cops and courts reporter. Every Friday I sat in Island County Superior Court and took notes on crimes against the elderly, children and the most vulnerable in our society. By the time I left the courthouse, I felt sad, depressed and my heart ached for the victims, especially children.

However, I learned to separate my emotions from what I was seeing and hearing. The police, judge, jurors, attorneys and clerks were all hearing the same horrible things, yet they weren’t devastated when court adjourned each Friday.

So, yes, deep inside that crusty exterior of a news reporter beats a heart, a caring one at that.

But we still must do the job in a way that our readers deserve and expect.


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