Sunday, May 21, 2017

Please don't ask me not to print public records

After about the umpteenth time that someone asked me not to print a crime report, a DWI arrest, an accident, a divorce, or a marriage license and had to hear someone say, "You wouldn't print that if you were the one who was involved," I developed a firm policy and a stock answer that I used to respond to the comment.

"Yes, I would, and if I am arrested for something, it will be printed on page one."

Thankfully, I was never arrested for anything during the times when I was editor at the Lamar Democrat or the Carthage Press, so I never had to put that rule into effect.

But that is exactly what I would have done. If you are going to print some of the records, you print all of the records and if you are going to run the bad things that happen to prominent citizens in a conspicuous place, then you should also be willing to take the same punishment should the situation arise.

The closest I ever came to having something embarrassing printed in a newspaper was when I was at the Lamar Democrat. One day when roads were only partially cleared after a snowstorm, I had to take pictures at Liberal High School, I made it all the way to Liberal and back to Lamar, even going over hills without an incident. When I got back to the Lamar Square, I hit a patch of ice and ran into a truck that was parked on the west side of the square.

I made it a point to put the information from that accident into the paper, though I normally would not have printed such a minor incident. I was totally at fault, though looking back at the incident I seem to recall that the truck was parked aggressively.

The reason I bring this up is that a couple of times over the past few weeks I have been threatened with legal action for printing items that were a matter of public record.

A few weeks ago, it was when I revealed that criminal charges had been filed against a local businessman. The businessman did not threaten me, but someone claiming to be one of his friends thought I  had no business printing the information and said he was sure I would be hearing from the businessman's lawyers.

Considering that all of the information came from court documents, I did not expect to hear anything further about it and I didn't.

The latest incident occurred this week when a man contacted me and was extremely upset because I had printed information about a relative of his who had been involved in a traffic accident.

He asked where I had gotten the information and said it wasn't right to run the information before the whole family had been told about the incident. I told him the information came directly from the Highway Patrol report.

He asked me to remove the information and if it was not removed by the next morning, he would be contacting everyone who could do something to get me into line. He said he had taken screenshots of what I had written, so he had plenty of evidence.

He certainly did.

I wrote to him and told him the Highway Patrol posted the information about the accident on its website hours before I printed it and that it was also going to the local TV and radio stations. It will also most certainly find its way onto the pages of the Joplin Globe.

It is not that I am without feeling. I have sympathy for people who, through no fault of their own, end up being involved in an accident or become involved in some event that makes the news.

For years I worked for newspapers where pride was taken in providing the public with the basic information that people want to know about- arrests, court cases, marriage licenses, divorces, accidents, agendas for upcoming meetings, etc.

Those things have always been the building blocks of local reporting and the newspapers that have shunned that information in recent years because their staffs have been cut to the bone are failing to provide their readers with a valuable public service.

I intend to keep printing the information. Please do not ask me to leave your incident out. I will respond politely, but you will not like the answer.


Harvey Hutchinson said...

You are a correct journalist
Not sure about your liberal competition
Harvey Hutchinson 303-522-6622
Voice&text 24/7

Anonymous said...

Harvey, is there a problem in the world that isn't the fault of liberals?

Anonymous said...

I wanted to come on here and give a snarky answer and come up with something that we could blame a conservative for instead of a liberal.

Couldn't think of anything. /shrug