Bleeding the Black

Naming names

When it comes to naming names, especially in cases of criminal activity, a newspaper must be careful, fair and accurate in how it handles suspects and victims.

We at the Craig Daily Press believe we perform a public service by alerting readers to criminal activity and efforts of law enforcement agencies.

This newspaper has established flexible policies that allow it to be consistent in how we treat suspects and victims, knowing that not all cases will be the same and that, because of circumstance, some cases must be handled differently.

The Craig Daily Press publishes a jail report that identifies all those who have been booked into the Moffat County Public Safety Center and on what charges that individual was booked into the jail.

We also run a blotter that lists law enforcement activity on some of the more serious calls, such as assault or burglary.

It's a balancing act when it comes to reporting on crime.

On one hand, the newspaper does not want to come off looking like a public relations firm for law enforcement agencies and on the other it does not want to be insensitive to public concerns or, on occasion, cooperate with officials.

When reporters go out to the scene of a crime, they need to respect the job that police officers are doing will trying to get information for their stories.

Reporters sometimes forget that, ultimately, the investigation is more important than the story and they should give officers reasonable amount of time to do their job.

At the same time, however, police must realize that the newspaper is providing a critical public service in reporting crime and on-going investigations.

The Craig Daily Press looks at different crimes and incidents in different ways, such as a traffic accident, which we usually only report on if it involves injuries. Of course, if a traffic accident caused a major traffic jam or knocked out power, or was such that the lack of injuries seemed incredible, we would certainly report on those.

We handle sexual crimes differently than we handle any other crime story because of the nature of the crime and possible social stigmas that could develop around those involved.

The Craig Daily Press never names victims of sex crimes and only reports the names of perpetrators when they are convicted.

This is a standard rule adopted by most newspapers throughout the nation but even with this policy there are exceptions.

Last year in California a man stole a vehicle with its female driver still in the car. Newspapers, upon the arrest of the suspect, named the man and the victim on the belief that it was a car jacking case.

However, law enforcement officials later revealed that the woman was raped by the suspect. Some papers, believing that names already had been named, continued using the identities of the suspect and victim. But other papers immediately stopped the use of the names of those involved.

Criminal situations are not always cut and dry.

This newspaper reported on an incest case last year. An incest case is unique in the fact that if the suspect was ultimately convicted of the crime, naming him would also, in effect, be identifying the victim. In this case, the Craig Daily Press chose not to idenfity the suspect or the victim if the case resulted in a conviction.

So while a publication has ground rules regarding how crime is to be reported, the nature of the subject forces these policies to be as flexible as possible while maintaining consistency and accuracy.

("Bleeding the Black Ink" is a weekly column that aims at getting readers better acquainted with the Craig Daily Press. Do you have a question or an issue for an upcoming column? Call Terrance Vestal at 824-7031 or email him at tvestal@craigdailypress.com.)

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