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  • Ethics Guide: Covering crime

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  • Covering crime
    Issue: When we report on crime, we need to be consistent and sensitive to issues involving minors and victims.
    When covering crime and courts, here are standards that must be followed. Discuss any exceptions/deviations with supervising editors before posting or publishing:
    • Don’t include names of minors unless there is a newsworthy reason, such as that the minor is charged as an adult.
    • Don’t identify sexual assault victims unless there is a newsworthy reason, such as a victim coming forward who identifies himself or herself. Think of sex abuse victims of priests who come forward as adults. Avoid inadvertently identifying a victim who is living at the same address or is related to the accused.
    • Always treat victims with empathy.
    • Report on more serious felonies unless there is a newsworthy reason to report misdemeanors or lesser felonies. Examples of what to cover include, but are not limited to, murder and any crime resulting in the death of the victim, child abuse, burglaries, robberies, white-collar crime and DUI. You might report a lesser charge if it involves a public figure, for example. In order to form a more specific policy for your newsroom, you might draw the line at a certain class of felony (Class X felony, for example).
    • Be consistent in your coverage. If you include DUIs, include everyone and make no exceptions. That way, if someone asks that he or she not be included, you can point to your consistency as a reason you cannot make an exception.
    • Report news involving crimes in a timely manner online and in print.
    • Publication of an arrest includes the name, age, numbered street address, town and specific charges. Information comes from police, district attorneys, court records or other law enforcement agencies.
    Police blotter should never be posted online. Posting every crime in the blotter online makes it practically impossible to keep up with the developments of those crimes and to offer fair coverage of those items. Police briefs (stories of a few paragraphs or more) or stories can be posted online, as long as the paper will be dedicated to updating the story if developments occur with the incident being reported. Editors should also carefully consider whether to post full police blotter in print. Again, the issue is whether the newsroom can follow up on each blotter item. If a newsroom cannot commit to reporting the disposition of each blotter item, it should not run full blotter lists.
    If someone is concerned about his/her arrest record coming up in a search engine, particularly because the charges in question have been dismissed or a court has found the person not guilty, he/she should provide the editor of the posting publication with copies of court documents describing the disposition. The editor will then add that disposition to the posted story.
    Page 2 of 2 - However, news and information posted to the Web should come down when threats to life and limb are at stake, or in cases of identity theft. In cases such as these, the person should provide proof to an editor of his or her claims.
    When the editor is satisfied, the editor should contact David Arkin (630-936-6070 or darkin@gatehousemedia.com), provide sufficient background on the matter and request the content be taken down from Google. Once that has been done, we have done all we can to control our content in a Google search. The Google blurb still remains, but leads to a “404 page not found” message.
    Also consider carefully the naming of the accused in items you post to the Web. Content lives forever on the Web. If public safety is at stake, providing names is appropriate. If public safety is not at stake, consider carefully the long-term benefits or consequences of publishing the names of the accused.

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