Whether it is the competition brought on by the new Joplin Daily or simply business as usual, I was deeply disturbed by the sidebar article Joplin Globe reporter Jeff Lehr wrote in today's paper concerning the murder Tuesday of Roger Price of Joplin.
For the second week in a row, a major city news story has been about a tragedy involving one of my students. Last week, it was the death of Joplin High School student-athlete Christina Freeman, whose brother is in one of my classes. Tuesday's murder victim was the father of one of my students.
Undeniably, journalists have to go where the story takes them and sometimes people are going to be hurt, but Lehr's sidebar coverage of the murder appeared to be excessive and to have little or no purpose. When there was a slight mention by police that the murder might have something to do with a domestic situation, Lehr apparently made efforts to contact family members, dug into court records to find out that Mr. Price had been divorced for seven years and interviewed Mr. Price's landlord, who may or may not have information that has to do with the murder and may or may not have heard the gunshots that killed Mr. Price. Lehr did exactly what he should have been doing, and should be commended for it. What turned up in the newspaper is a different matter.
In short, there was no reason for Lehr's sidebar and it did nothing to further the story. It appears to be more a case of the reporter covering his bases, putting every tidbit of information he gathered into his story, whether it was connected to the murder or not, so that on the off chance that one of those nuggets turns out to be a motive, the Globe can say it had the information first.
Jeff Lehr has turned in many well-written, well-researched articles during his years at the Globe. Clearly, he did the footwork on this story. The reporter's job is to get the information, write it, and turn it in to his or her editors. It appears that those editors may have pushed information into print that either should have waited or should never have been published at all.
This kind of story, a horrible tragedy that draws the attention of all of the print and electronic media, was the precise reason why I wrote "Small Town News." And while I can't fault the Globe or any of its media competitors for attempting to dig up as much information as they can (that is their job, after all), I would hope that some thought is going into the effect this has on the family. Necessary information should be printed and the public does have the right to know what happened when someone is murdered. It is also important, however, to make sure the information is connected to the story before running it.