FROM THE EDITOR’S DESK: News isn’t always easy

Posted on Tuesday, October 22, 2013 at 10:24 am

Some news weeks are easier than others. I would classify last week as one of the tougher ones.

We are committed to reporting news as quickly as we can through our Twitter, Facebook and online edition of the newspaper. But it isn’t always as clear cut as it may seem. It isn’t as simple as getting the information and throwing it out there.

josh petersonLast week we were faced with some tough decisions on a couple of different stories – the Hawkins abuse trial and the death of Patricia Collins.

The former was just tough to watch and the latter forced us to make decisions that aren’t always easy to make. To be honest there isn’t an instruction manual to handle these situations.

The first tough decision was whether or not to put the news out that a homicide had occurred before the next of kin to the victim had been notified. We ran the risk of the next of kin finding out through our social media outlets and not through authorities. That is the absolute worst case scenario for us. So we compromised and put out limited information. We tweeted and facebooked that police were investigating a homicide on Powers Bridge Rd. But we did not mention an address or a name.

Why? Well, aside from the expectation of us to report the news, rumors were starting to spread and the best way to stop those is for us to start putting out solid information. That’s what we did and we felt comfortable with that decision.

The second major decision is releasing a name. We had a name well before the Coffee County Sheriff’s Department had notified the next of kin. This is where we face a clash between reporting news as quickly as we can and acting with integrity. We tend to pick the latter in most all cases. The same reasons exist here as our first pickle with social media – we don’t want the family finding out through the media that a family member had been killed in her home. And we don’t want to undermine the efforts of law enforcement. They generally ask us to hold back on a name until they notify the family and we have no reason to not oblige.

Another decision we faced was when to release the picture of the crime scene. Once again, with a picture of the house on the internet and the family still not notified by authorities, we ran a risk of the family finding out on the internet that Patricia Collins was dead. It didn’t really make sense to not release a name or address but then stick a picture of the residence online. Then again the Nashville news stations were running live shots of the home all over TV.

We decided to stay on the side of caution. Releasing a picture of the house immediately did not affect the outcome of the story. It wasn’t necessary to release quickly in the name of public safety. So we held back on the picture and simply released as much information as we could without putting a name or crime scene photo online.

I feel like those decisions worked out pretty good for us. I feel like most people understand the sensitivity of the subject. Then again, I saw some Facebook comments that read, “Well a Nashville TV station has a picture of the house. Go to their website.” As painful as it may be for me to see that suggestion on the Manchester Times Facebook – a suggestion for people to go to another news website – it was no reason to sacrifice some common decency in reporting the news. 

Some decisions aren’t easy. But I hope you know the decisions we make are always in the best interest of integrity, our community and our readers.

-Josh Peterson is the editor of the Manchester Times. He is a Tennessee Press Association award-winning writer and photographer. His column, “From the editor’s desk” won TPA first-place honors for best personal humor column. He can be reached by email at mteditor@lcs.net or by telephone at 931-728-7577 ext. 105. Follow him on Twitter @joshpeterson29

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