Wick Communications

Protecting minors in your coverage

In Ethics on April 11, 2014 at 9:04 am

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Under what circumstances would you identify underage sex crime perpetrators or victims? What if it were perfectly legal to do so? What if other media outlets had already done so? Would you grant anonymity to the mother of a victim? Where would you run such a story in your newspaper?

These aren’t hypothetical questions. They are real-world quandaries that Wick journalists face all the time. For instance, this week alone:

  • In Roanoke Rapids, a 16-year-old boy was charged in sex crimes against younger boys. By state law, those over the age of 16 are considered adults so authorities released the name of the accused. Managing Editor Matt Lindberg had to decide whether it was fair to print the name of a teenager accused of such heinous crimes.

These are not easy questions. We want to be consistent and make defensible decisions. But we also want to take extra consideration whenever juveniles are caught on either side of these questions. …

In both of the above instances, the editors wisely chose to be extra cautious. Lindberg explained the newspaper’s policy, in italics after the story:

The Daily Herald does not publish the names of those under the age of 18 involved in sex crimes unless proven guilty in a court of law. The Daily Herald does not publish the names of victims who are under the age of 18 to protect their identities.

Albertson allowed the mother to comment without using her name. It’s clear from the story that Albertson did so only because of the extraordinary circumstances.

I think both editors made the right decision. I think the safety of juveniles is of paramount concern and often justifies discretion. That extends to those accused – but not yet found guilty – of terrible crimes. That’s particularly true in the Internet age, when mere charges can follow people for the rest of their lives.

— Clay

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