In Newspapers on January 27, 2017 at 11:13 am
“Clay, I’ve gotten six calls from Delray police,” my long-suffering editor said into her cellphone. “What are you doing out there?”
What I was doing on that October day in 2001 was covering the funeral of Bob Stevens. Or trying to, at least. Stevens was the tabloid photographer who was killed with a lethal dose of anthrax in the wake of the unrelated attacks of 9-11. I was assigned to the funeral.
The problem that day was that Delray Beach, Fla.,’s finest was essentially working as private security for the funeral party. (I found it ironic that the National Enquirer wanted the press to respect the privacy of those grieving, but I digress…) I was stopped, questioned and not allowed to enter. So I walked all around the building — careful to stay off private property — looking for some vantage or someone to interview. I was followed every step of the way by a policeman.
I thought of that this week in the wake of new concerns for the safety of journalists and the sanctity of journalism in our own country. Several journalists were arrested during protests surrounding the inauguration of President Donald Trump and they have been charged with felonies. That is somewhat unusual, though not unheard of. (It is interesting to note that the District of Columbia paid out $17 million — including $115,000 to each of several student journalists — for unlawful arrests at a 2002 protest.) … Read the rest of this entry »
In Accuracy on January 5, 2017 at 11:58 am
The story, posted on a television network affiliate website, makes no doubt about the guilt of the perpetrators:
SAN MATEO, Calif. (KGO) — A brothel operating in a residential neighborhood was shut down Monday night. San Mateo police raided the home on West 20th Avenue, right across the street from Serra High school.
Neighbors say they had a funny feeling about the new tenants of a rental home from the beginning. Turned out, they were right.
San Mateo police arrested Jin Zhen for operating a house of ill-fame, also known as a brothel.
It had only been running for three weeks, but in that short period of time, business was booming. …
As for the prostitutes, none were inside at the time of the raid. …
Maybe that is because where were no prostitutes. A month and a half after the raid, the local district attorney has yet to press charges. In fact, district attorney Steve Wagstaffe issued a rather unusual statement about the case five weeks after the arrests, saying the police had work to do and that press could stop calling about it because he would let us know if and when charges were ever filed. A measure of how seriously he took the charges can be found in the paltry $2,500 bail and the fact that he said he would notify defendants by mail if charges were forthcoming. … Read the rest of this entry »
In journalism on July 14, 2016 at 4:34 pm
Amy Coveno, courtesy WMUR. And I’m sure she is a wonderful person because she is another Colorado State University grad.
Back in May, two Manchester, New Hampshire, police officers were shot by a man on some kind of a rampage. The two police officers were injured, but but one was able attend the arraignment for the suspect, Ian MacPherson, several days later.
In the wake of the shooting, Manchester Police spokesman Brian O’Keefe issued the following request to media outlets via email:
Ofc. Hardy will be home, but PLEASE respect his privacy and do not attempt to interview him or his family. He and Officer O’Connor made it clear that they would like space and do not want any media To knock on their door and ask about the shooting.
Again, they will not speak to the media, so please respect their wishes. This is an ordeal for all involved and they wish to be with family and remain private.
If they have a change of heart, maybe we can work on something with them and all media outlets and host a presser. In the meantime, thank you for your anticipated cooperation.
Well, that is a reasonable request presented reasonably. Personally, I would be apt to respect it. I would hope to have a relationship with the local PIO that guarantees I wouldn’t be scooped and would perhaps be a part of that group presser. That said, police shootings are big news and I think reporters can be forgiven for knocking on the door and seeing what happens. I could see myself waiting a couple days and ringing the doorbell. Let the officer say for himself if he didn’t wish to speak. He doesn’t have to open the door. … Read the rest of this entry »
In Crime on March 26, 2015 at 3:29 pm
Here’s a scenario with which you are probably familiar. You write a blurb in the police blotter about some guy who allegedly did something wrong. Maybe it’s only a couple sentences. Maybe, in the grand scheme of things, it’s no big deal. Police say the guy had some drugs. Maybe he intended to sell them.
You print the arrest. End of story.
Only it’s not — not for the guy whose name is in the paper. If you work on the editorial side of the newspaper, I bet you’ve seen these guys straggle in from time to time to proclaim their innocence. The cops got it wrong. They planted evidence. I didn’t do it!
So what do you do?
I bet you try to check it out. At least I think you should. I think we owe the people we drag through the mud the opportunity to come clean. We should follow the charges through to adjudication. (Because we at the Half Moon Bay Review don’t have the resources to routinely cover court machinations that take place out of our circulation area, I long ago made the decision not to print names with most misdemeanor offenses. We do name those involved in felony arrests and we try to follow up on those.)
Last week, one of our usual suspects came to see me. He said the cops were out to get him. Again. I always try to be respectful to these folks, partly because I figure they are having a hard time and it’s the least I can do. I’m also aware that just because you are paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t really out to get you.
In this case, the cops really did venture out of bounds. Calls to the district attorney revealed that myriad charges against Osman Yousif were dropped after a superior court judge ruled he was subject to an illegal detention. He calls it “kidnapping” and I’m not sure I can argue the point. Curiously, charges related to a previous arrest – for allegedly having 20 pounds (20 pounds!) of pot packaged for sale – were also dropped when the government’s own expert witness would not testify that the pot was marketable. Is Osman paranoid, or are they really out to get him? … Read the rest of this entry »
In Crime on February 26, 2015 at 3:16 pm
In one Wick newspaper community, a man was arrested on felony charges of child molestation. The charges were themselves graphic, mentioning very specific sex acts. Authorities indicated the allegations involved family members.
Here in Half Moon Bay, a 19-yer-old otherwise known as a good kid was accused of raging through a local neighborhood, naked, smeared with feces and attacking a former pro athlete, while under the effects of hallucinogens.
And these aren’t particularly isolated incidents. Hardly a week goes by without a touchy story passing an editor’s desk. Sometimes they involve children or mere allegations. Sometimes it’s hard to gauge the veracity of the charges themselves. Complicating matters, most of us live in relatively small towns where these stories can lead to unfair online commentary and innuendo that can follow families for years.
So what do you do with these salacious tales? How do you balance the public’s right to know with questions of fairness to those involved? Do you err on the side of publishing the whole truth or are you likely to protect neighbors and the sensitivities of readers?
Let’s start by acknowledging that these are very difficult decisions. There may be no right answer and there probably isn’t a stock bit of advice that covers unique situations. That said, I’d like to offer some things to consider: … Read the rest of this entry »
In Media law on October 30, 2014 at 12:37 pm
We have a time-honored legal tradition in this country and really among free people everywhere: You are innocent until proven guilty. It comes from the Latin, Ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat. (The burden of proof is on he who declares, not on he who denies.) It goes back to Roman law.
It’s important not to forget that principle in all aspects of our journalism. And it’s especially easy to assume guilt in headlines, where you may only have a handful of words to convey a complicated set of circumstances.
The headline you see above comes from a Wick paper earlier this month. The story says two local gents were arrested on suspicion of theft, but the headline clearly implies guilt. There has been no trial, yet we have these two guys named, with their photos, under a headline saying they did it.
Many of us have written similar headlines in the rush of deadline. … Read the rest of this entry »
In First Amendment on November 21, 2013 at 3:23 pm
Dan Shearer, editor of the Green Valley News, recently scored a major victory with the local constabulary. In fact, his success is almost unbelievable: He got the Pima County Sheriff’s Department to deliver police reports in a more timely fashion, he secured another detective for local taxpayers and he even got the Sheriff to buy a three more copies of the newspaper!
When he told me he had secured all that, my reaction was entirely unprintable. I was amazed.
It all started with a common editor complaint. The Sheriff’s Department was not releasing reports, claiming (when they bothered to claim anything at all) that these were open cases and still under investigation and, therefore, not subject to open records law. Well, we all know that every case is effectively open until the bad guy is convicted and even then law enforcement can drag its feet. There are two primary reasons for this. First, folks in all professions naturally like to keep secrets. Makes them feel important. Secondly, cops (like the rest of us) are lazy. It’s just easier to say “no” than to do your job.
So Dan complained. Vociferously. First in the form of this column in the newspaper. Then he did so in an email to the Sheriff’s Department command staff. The initial response from Bureau Chief Chris Nanos was encouraging. “Thanks for bringing these issues to our attention,” he wrote in an email. “We will get it right.” … Read the rest of this entry »
In First Amendment on November 7, 2013 at 4:24 pm
David Rookhuyzen was minding his own business in the Pierre Capital Journal newsroom last Thursday when the regular scanner chirp became more insistent. Cops had a guy barricaded in a local residence. They were evacuating the area. A half-dozen law enforcement agencies were en route, including the U.S. Marshal’s Service and the FBI.
You didn’t have to be Carl Bernstein to know something was afoot on the 1000 block of North Euclid Avenue in Pierre that day.
So he took off to the scene, then he took out his phone. From a safe distance, he began tweeting about what he was witnessing. He saw ambulances arrive. He heard a succession of loud booms. Somewhere in there, an officer was shot. He sent about 30 tweets in all. Then Police Chief Bob Granpre asked him to stop.
Somehow, in the midst of a tense scene, Granpre found out a Capital Journal reporter was tweeting. He called a local radio reporter, who handed the phone to David. … Read the rest of this entry »
In First Amendment on June 6, 2013 at 8:52 pm
The fire in Princeton, Calif. Charles Russo / Review
We had quite an afternoon here in Half Moon Bay. First we saw a tweet about a grass fire up the road. If we had missed the tweet, we would have surely heard the sirens. It was one of those calls that fills the air with the shrill sound of sirens. Reporters Mark Noack and Mark Foyer, and photographer Charlie Russo, were barely back from that assignment when the California Highway Patrol flashed “School bus crash” across its online dispatch feed.
Thankfully, neither potential calamity turned out to be much, but both required quick work and the staff was all over it.
Actually we had a bit of a problem getting to the fire. There was a potential and literal roadblock on the only road leading to the scene in the form of a San Mateo County Sheriff’s deputy who was stopping traffic.
California law – specifically, California Penal Code 409.5 – expressly allows reporters access to fire, flood, earthquake and other natural disaster scenes. The small print calls for accreditation of some kind and courts have ruled that business cards, press passes and other evidence you work for a newspaper is good enough.
But this time the deputy on scene didn’t see it that way. Noack had his press pass, complete with publisher’s signature and mug shot, so he was waved through. The deputy said Foyer’s business card wasn’t good enough. Foyer stayed behind. … Read the rest of this entry »
In Crime on June 29, 2012 at 8:05 am
Charles Russo / Half Moon Bay Review
Kudos to journalist Jonathan Stray for initiating a very interesting discussion of modern crime-reporting. Or, should I say, ancient crime-reporting techniques still pervasive in a modern world.
Stray and many others note that regurgitating the police blotter is both an ineffectual way to report on crime in your community and a waste of time. Police departments are increasingly putting their blotter online, where anyone can see it – without the newspaper intermediary. At least as important, traditional “this just happened” reporting misses the larger point of safety in our communities. If we report the heck out of our community’s sole murder this year, are we creating an out-sized sense of the dangers of society? If we report on DUI arrests, are we bothering to follow up with how those cases are ultimately adjudicated? If we report on one robbery, are we missing the story of the societal pressures that induce crime?
The issue of crime-reporting is fascinating to me. Many newspapers are attempting to map crimes in various ways and Stray links to them in his terrific blog post.
Here’s my takeaway: In some ways, cops are more transparent than they were even, say, two years ago. Many are posting real-time information online. That does not mean they are telling the stories behind those numbers. And it certainly doesn’t mean they can be trusted to be their own watchdog. I think we should stop thinking of ourselves as a conduit between the cops and readers and start thinking of ways to package that information in ways that add depth and sophistication.
Cover people not incidents: Police may be great at responding to crime. They are less great at responding to the result. What’s it like to be a victim of a crime? What is the impact on the family of the bad guys? (I recently learned the local Sheriff’s Office here is working to evict families of gang members from public housing.) … Read the rest of this entry »