BY CHRIS FAULKNOR & BENJAMIN J. GOHS
If you do something terrible that affects, or could affect, the community, your neighbors have a right to know about it.
And, despite claims by some disgruntled news consumers (dating back to the invention of the newspaper), to warn a community about a rapist, a murderer, a drug dealer, a child molester, a terrorist, an embezzler … is not being unreasonable nor sensationalist.
This past month alone, a few well-known people from our community appeared in the newspaper for things they’d probably like not to be that well-known for.
Some folks, especially in small towns, might feel conflicted when issues like these come up.
After all, nobody wants their town to be known for the awful crimes that occur within its city limits.
And it’s not something we at the Boyne City Gazette take lightly.
The discussion that comes up, more often than not, is weighing the public’s right to know what’s going on against a person’s right to privacy: will this story do more good than harm or harm than good?
But then, that tree branch splits, because, on one hand, they’re all records easily available to the public … so the newspaper isn’t giving the public what they can’t get themselves anyway, right?
Yet, on the other hand, we’re aiding in spreading the word.
Playing justification ping-pong can be mind-numbing.
The bottom line is it can be tough to share unflattering information about someone you’ve known and possibly respected for many years, but the decision to do so isn’t based on feelings.
We begin by taking the “who” out of it. “If a person I didn’t know was caught selling heroin off the boardwalk, in his underwear, would I want to know?”
Then we add the “who” back in and ask if the prominence of the criminal matters to the story.
Here’s what we can say doesn’t weigh in on that decision—we don’t do it because of how we feel about the person.
For going on nine years now, we’ve put all sorts of people in the newspaper for all sorts of crimes. Some have been our friends. Some others have been people we didn’t like.
One person who appeared in the cops and courts section was a member of Chris’ own family.
They were all treated the same way, and it had nothing to do with a rough guess on how many papers it would sell or who it would upset … or how uncomfortable Thanksgiving dinner was going to be.
It didn’t matter who could do more damage to us or who could help us out down the road.
If you commit a crime, don’t bother calling to ask if we can sweep it under the rug.
And for god’s sake, don’t try bribing us, because that story will be retold in perpetuity, and to a whole lot of people. (You know who you are.)
Contrary to popular belief, we do not ascribe to the “If it bleeds, it leads” mantra.
What we are trying to do is inform the public of things they have a right to know about, from a boring old planning commission meeting to a murder investigation.
We at the Gazette take great pride in our work. We also take great pride in our judgement because we do care, and we have made mistakes which taught us valuable lessons.
The things that have appeared in the Gazette over the past near-decade have made some people angry, but each one has come with thoughtful discussions that often spanned hours, because we wanted to make sure we were doing things for the right reasons.
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