Wednesday, August 12, 2009

What's the big ID?

Our newspaper's publication of the name of an innocent driver involved in a fatal traffic accident has created a buzz on our Website. In response to one critic, Managing Editor Tony Adamis offered the following explanation:

"...The driver's identity would not be an issue if it had simply been
released in due course the first time around by the Sheriff's Office. We
would have reported her identity with the first story and most readers would
not have thought a second thing of it. That's because in fatal traffic
accidents of all stripes, we and most other news outlets that I know,
routinely report who died, who was injured, and who was operating the
vehicles, irrespective of charges or lack thereof. We do so because it is a
news event and detail is important to readers' relationship to the news and
their understanding of what happened in their community. Addresses are
published (so as to avoid) the smallest possibility of confusion of identity with
someone else of the same name. The publication of those details is routine
and had nothing to do with culpability attached to the people identified or
pushing any point related to the difficulty we had in getting them in this
case. If we're going to push a point ... we'll do it on the
editorial page.

"In this case, not only did the Sheriff's Office withhold the name of the
driver, but also withheld the cause of the death, which was judged a
suicide. That's an important detail regarding a death in a public place. It
also instantly explains how it is that the Sheriff's Office concluded the
driver was innocent of any infraction.

"Ironically, one of our reporters has been investigating a possible story
about the difficulty a community volunteer is having getting donations from
the community for a new program. The program? Raising the community's
awareness of the extent of the problem of suicide.

"I understand you do not agree. But this is the rationale that drove the
reporting and publication of the story."
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