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It’s called judgement

By Walter Geiger With the publication of each and every issue of the newspaper you hold in your hand, judgement is required as to which stories and photos are used and how much space and emphasis they are given. Each story is different and weighed on its own merit but there are some overall basic tenets we adhere to. Take suicides for example. We treat suicide as just another tragic cause of death. In the case of a suicide, most often all you will read here is an obituary. But, there are circumstances in which that changes. A suicide garners coverage if the deceased is a public figure. Those considered public figures would be elected officials, school admin-istrators or, in some instances, law enforcement officers or those affiliated with the judicial process. A murder-suicide obviously draws news coverage in that one or more of the deceased parties was not in on the plan from the start. It goes from a victimless situation to one in which there is a deceased victim and thereby crosses the coverage/no coverage threshold. So called ‘˜suicide by cop’ cases, in which a person forces one or more law enforcement officers to take his or her life, are covered as they are life-altering for those forced into action as well as for the deceased. Another issue where editorial judgement is required is in cases of vandalism. Colorful graffiti on a box car may be beautiful in the eye of the person who painted it and some who see it but, to the railroad executive, it represents the expense required to repaint the car. Often providing vandals with media coverage leads to more vandalism. That is why you generally won’t see us cover vandalism unless it becomes a pattern and must be stopped. Church and graveyard vandals are, by nature, a different breed and we usually do cover their dastardly deeds. Arsons, like we have experienced locally in recent days, are another area in which judgement is needed. Like vandals, arsonists are often spurred on by media coverage of the fires they set. Other times, arsonists escalate their activities whether they get media attention or not. That is what happened in the most recent case. This arsonist graduated from setting grass and woods fires to burning buildings and cars. It became, as the fire chief noted, a lifeendangering threat. At that point, it merited coverage. Just hours after we put coverage online with notice of a $10,000 reward, authorities got a tip about the arsonist. That night they set up a stakeout and caught a suspect. She had been in prison before for the exact same type series of crimes. Hopefully, her arrest will be the end of this arson story until the time comes for us to cover her trial – and cover it we will. It is also my hope that you now have a better understanding of how we look at these things. We are also open to suggestions. If you have one, don’t hesitate to share it. Walter Geiger is editor and publisher of The Herald Gazette.

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