Sometimes, we can't tell you all we hear

March 20, 2005|by BILL KOHLER

Sometimes it's pretty cool to hear things first.

People who work in the news business tend to hear things first. We know about most things before the general public does - the good and the bad.

We hear about the new stores coming to town, how bad the tax increase will be in Chambersburg and how much sewer rates will be going up in Funkstown.

Naturally, it's part of what makes news, well, news. It's new, current and fresh.

It's a plus when we hear so many of the good things going on in a community - whether it's through a successful sports team, a good Samaritan who helps shovel a neighbor's walk or a young person making a difference in the Next Generation feature that runs every Friday in The Morning Herald and The Daily Mail.


However, along with the good comes the bad. We also are the first to hear about the not-so-good aspects of the community, specifically criminal cases and the details surrounding them.

Some of what we hear is unfit for a local newspaper. Some of what we collect in our news-gathering process would be perceived as unfair, biased or even harmful to the victims and (yes) the person charged in the crime.

Sometimes, I feel the media in general is more careful about being fair to the person charged with a crime than the victim. It's a tough line to toe, and our decisions about what actually runs in the paper are arrived at after spirited debate among several editors and reporters.

A recent example was an abuse case where a mother and her boyfriend were charged with abusing the woman's son. We decided to run the names of the adults and not the child (obviously) because the charges were of physical abuse, not sexual.

In cases of alleged sexual abuse, The Herald-Mail (and most media) will go out of its way to protect the victim even if that means not naming those charged in the case.

Two good examples are the Michael Jackson sexual abuse case and the Kobe Bryant case in which rape charges against him eventually were dropped.

Media outlets many times know the name of the accusers and victims, but do not reveal the names to protect their privacy. This is a good thing for the victims.

If the name of Bryant's or Jackson's accusers had been public, they would have been subject to threats, ridicule and shame.

These threats also make it less likely that victims of assault would come forward in the future, something you see emphasized by police agencies and victims' rights groups.

This also is the case with not naming juveniles (17 and younger) who are involved in crimes unless they are charged as adults.

Most states do not have a law against releasing names of juveniles charged with crimes; we just don't do it and most police agencies won't release the names anyway.

Do these policies make our jobs harder from time to time? Of course.

Do they sometimes take away from the amount of information we can include in a story? Sure.

Some policies are subject to discussion and even change, but most papers, including The Herald-Mail, likely won't budge for various reasons.

One thing I know won't change here is editors and reporters going out of our way to protect victims of crimes, while still getting as much pertinent information in our stories.

Bill Kohler is Tri-State Editor of The Herald-Mail. You may reach him at 800-626-6397, ext. 2023, or by e-mail at

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