Wick Communications

Do you name the school?

In Ethics on February 23, 2017 at 4:40 pm

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X High School students suspected of armed robbery.

That suggested headline gave me pause the other day. The story concerned the arrest of two 16-year-old boys who had been arrested for robbing a younger teenager of his watch and some other stuff. The suspects, who by California law were not named because of their age, were charged with armed robbery because the victim said he saw a knife and the handle of a firearm during the commission of the crime.

The writer handled all that stuff well, I thought. It was a legitimate news story. … I just couldn’t get past naming the suspects’ high school. Ultimately, I deleted reference to it, and I wanted to mention it here in case my reasoning is useful to you.

So why did I delete reference to the school? Why not give readers all the information you have? What’s wrong with specifying where these charmers take classes? Wouldn’t mentioning it help parents take precautions that could keep their families safe?

I don’t think so. There are three relevant points for me:

First, the incident did not take place on the high school campus. The affiliation was incidental to the crime. If they were plumbers, say, would we run a headline reading “Jake’s Plumbers employees arrested for armed robbery?” If they were prominent, you might be more specific. If they were the highly recruited star football players, perhaps, or if they were two assistant principals, say, I might feel differently. I don’t think juvenile students at a local high school meet that measure. …

Two, naming the school unfairly casts aspersions on it. In this instance, the school happens to be a continuation school, a place where kids for a variety of reasons are getting their last chance with the district. Many of them have to work twice as hard as some of their more lucky peers to get a degree. It doesn’t seem fair to paint the school with such a broad brush.

Lastly, naming the school did not make the story more useful to readers. If you knew those arrested were connected with the school, what would you do differently? Remember, the crime did not occur at the school.

I hope it’s food for thought.

Clay

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