Letter from the editor: The moral dilemma of crime stories
By Adam Hocking
If you are an avid reader of Hub City Times, you have no doubt noticed our increased coverage of crime-related stories. This is thanks to Jacob Mathias, an excellent reporter, who is now offering his talents to help us.
This kind of coverage does, however, present our news staff with many issues and myriad questions that are not easy to answer. A reader last week contacted our office about the article “Marshfield man charged with sexual assault of a child,” which included graphic detail about the nature of an alleged sexual assault.
We were asked, in essence, why include such detail?
The answer is not an easy one. The initial response is this: We do not want to shield people from what is happening in our community. Taxpayer dollars fund the activities of the courts and police, and, moreover, when bad things happen, it does us no good to put our heads in the sand and pretend that all is well.
At the same time, there is a line of decency we must consider and should not cross while also respecting that — in any case — the accused is entitled to a presumption of innocence until proven guilty. Simultaneously, we want to respect the victims by telling their story in a way that is respectful. We are trying to be honest, informative, and treat readers like adults without crossing into the grotesque.
We shared too much information from that alleged sexual assault. As editor, it was my responsibility to adapt that article before it went to press. That is my fault and something that I own up to. We did edit the story online to still document what happened while softening some of the descriptions. Unfortunately, we are not able to edit these details in print.
What I mean to say is that there is no hard and fast formula for dealing with these stories and issues. People have a right to know that which is public information, the accused has the right to be assumed innocent, and the victim has a right to privacy. Unfortunately, all of these elements do not always pack themselves into neatly divided boxes.
I would like to add that I welcome your feedback and whatever you have to say about these types of stories. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org, and you can reach me in my office at 715-316-4617.
The creation of the news is not a one-way street, especially in a community the size of Marshfield. We do not simply disseminate information to our readers with no feedback loop. This is your paper, and you deserve a voice in how issues are covered and what is covered.