The names of five teenagers charged in connection with the alleged Columbine-style plot at Riverton High School were featured prominently in articles in today's Joplin Globe and Kansas City Star.
The names are also featured on the KSNF website.
At the same time, KOAM is only naming the 18-year-old, citing a policy of not naming juveniles in these cases.
This is another one of those knotty problems that face newsrooms When should you name juveniles who are accused of crimes? One simple solution is not name them unless they are charged as adults, but is that truly serving your readers or viewers?
It usually comes down to a newsroom decision as to whether the crime is heinous enough to merit naming juveniles.
In the Riverton case, those favoring naming names have a number of solid reasons on their side:
-We are talking about a Columbine-type plan, even though there appears to be some doubt as to whether these five teens planned to follow through on their threats. (And Riverton school officials did not help by failing to contact the authorities the second they had an inkling of what had been posted on myspace.com. That certainly would give the appearance they did not take the threat seriously. According to Globe reporter Jeff Lehr's weekend story and other reports I have read and heard, the authorities did not become aware of this plot until they were told by a myspace participant in North Carolina.) The gravity of this plot, in an era in which we have been traumatized by Columbine, Santee, Jonesboro, and other school shootings certainly would make this seem like a case that would merit naming the juveniles.
-The public definitely has a right to know. We are talking about a situation in which lives were threatened. This has an effect on everyone in the community, from parents and students to all of the taxpayers who foot the bill for the school.
-Felony charges were filed. This is not a situation in which teens are being charged with vandalism or disturbing the peace. Though the charges fell short of the conspiracy to commit murder originally mentioned, they are nothing to laugh at.
Those who favor not printing or broadcasting the names appear to be relying more on tradition than anything else. There was a time when public policy invariably came down on the side of keeping young people's names a secret. However, with the gravity of some of the crimes that have been committed by teens over the past several years, that thinking is appearing to be more and more out of date.
It is hard to believe that anyone in this day and age, no matter how young that person may be, does not know that there is something horribly wrong in plotting a mass murder.
While I commend KOAM for sticking to its principles, those principles are outdated. The names of the five alleged plotters, Charles New, Robby Hunt, Caleb Byrd, James Tillman and Andrew Jaeger should be mentioned every time new developments occur in this story.