Why do we write court stories? Are we being sensational? We are a close-knit community – should we really be reading about people’s private lives? How does the Sounder choose which law and justice stories to write about? These are some of the questions that have been raised in emails and on our websites by our readers over the years.
As your local newspaper, it is our responsibility to inform the public of all news – good and bad. We only write such pieces after someone has been charged with a crime or if a civil case has been filed.
Monitoring and writing about the judicial system is one of the watchdog functions of the media, and it is a newspaper editor’s responsibility to decide which stories rise to the level of news. It does not take a reporter or editor long to discover that some stories will cause pain, anger or criticism. A reporter or editor must learn to not allow anger or criticism to cloud his/her news judgment.
A newspaper is protected by the First Amendment because the founding fathers believed a greater good to all was served with a free press. The First Amendment comes with a responsibility on the part of a journalist to weigh the facts of a story and make a sound news judgment.
The difference between a civil and criminal case is the penalty and the burden of proof. A criminal case may include the risk of the defendant being sentenced to jail and fines. Civil cases may involve money or damages, interpretation of laws or contract disputes. In a criminal case, the state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt the defendant is guilty.
Our court stories are based on public documents. If we find something confusing in those documents, we often reach out to the attorneys and law enforcement involved for clarification.
There is a story in this week’s edition about an Orcas man accused of distributing child pornography. It’s an explicit topic that can elicit a wide variety of emotions in people. One of the reasons we cover cases like this is to raise awareness of this kind of heinous criminal activity that occurs every day as well as offer a chance for possible victims to contact authorities. The Sheriff’s Office anonymous tip line is 360-370-7629.
We are charged with the important and powerful task to report on the news. We prefer stories that build our community, yet sometimes our reporting covers a subject that must be shared as a public safety measure. Shedding light on alleged crime is not pleasant, but it’s necessary.
Without you, we would not be able to hold ourselves to such high standards. Continue to help us by asking questions. We hope this column has given you more information. If you have further questions about the ethics of the paper, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.