Our View: Differing views of crime, punishment

Craig Editorial Board

  • Bryce Jacobson, newspaper representative
  • Jennifer L. Grubbs, newspaper representative
  • Bridget Manley, newspaper representative
  • Allan Reishus, community representative
  • Chris Runyan, community representative
  • Ken Wergin, community representative

— Why should criminal cases be covered at all?

Newspaper and a community representative of the Craig Daily Press Editorial Board recently wrestled with these and other questions.

Striking the right balance between a defendant's rights and the public's need to stay informed isn't always easy.

Before delving into the topic head-on, newspaper representatives thought it would be best to present their rationale guiding coverage of the local criminal justice system.

Court stories are governed by several basic news writing principles, which include the proximity of the case, or whether it impacts people locally; notoriety, or how well known the defendant and/or alleged victim is; and the seriousness of charges brought against the defendant.

The number of people affected by the crime also plays a role in crime coverage decisions. Simply put, an alleged crime that does or could impact a large portion of the community will generally receive more coverage than crimes that do not.

The newspaper uses On the Record as another tool to cover the local crime beat.

The blotter lists calls received by the Craig Police Department, the Moffat County Sheriff's Office, Colorado State Patrol, Craig Fire/Rescue and The Memorial Hospital ambulance service.

Names are withheld in the blotter, with the exception of jail bookings, which are indicative of a serious crime.

Blotters in other newspapers sometimes list individuals' names, ages and addresses. The Craig Daily Press, however, does not. These kinds of information aren't printed per newspaper philosophy.

Only crimes reaching the level of arrest include names in print.

When someone goes to trial for a serious crime, however, newspaper coverage could have unintended effects on the defendant's family.

When a student's parent is in the newspaper on suspicion of committing a crime, for instance, the child can be exposed to ridicule from his or her peers.

Growing up in a small town can be hard.

Why make it more difficult for children by publishing their parents' transgressions in the newspaper?

If you really want to know the details of an alleged crime, you could go down to the courthouse and get the details yourself. Legal proceedings records, including those taken at arrest, indictment and filing of charges are to be kept open to the public, according to state law.

Still, newspaper representatives agreed that a news outlet has the responsibility to keep the public informed, even when the material it publishes could indirectly impact the innocent.

And, if potential wrongdoers know their actions could end up in print and harm their loved ones, maybe they'll be less likely to commit crimes.

The newspaper does make one exception, withholding names of alleged sex offenders.

The necessity of publishing details of crimes in the blotter, including DUIs, came up in the discussion. These kinds of offenses generally may not impact a large number of people.

On the other hand, residents can see whether the number of DUI's is increasing or decreasing based on the blotter, which may point to a deeper story.

On one point, community and newspaper representatives agreed. To someone who doesn't know what various charges mean, a crime can sound much worse that it actually is. Perhaps a more detailed explanation of the charges should accompany upcoming court stories.

Whatever decisions the Craig Daily Press makes on these and other topics, newspaper staff and administrators appreciate the feedback.

A newspaper never really belongs to the editor, the publisher or the company who directs them.

It belongs to the readers.

But, if the newspaper is to serve the community's needs, those readers must voice their concerns about news coverage.

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