Whenever I write a story with sensitive subject matter, I expect to hear from readers.
It happened this past week when I covered a story about a Greencastle man's arrest for child molestation.
I can't even guess how many stories I've written about child molestation cases. That's one of those things in this job that just never gets any easier.
I pore over court records, most times pages and pages of them, picking out the details I believe are necessary, but that won't reveal too much.
Apparently, many readers feel I missed the mark this last time.
I got e-mails and comments on our Web site ripping me apart for a variety of things, including participating in "so-called journalism," "trying to make a juicy story out of someone's sexual abuse," "writing garbage," exercising "poor editorial judgment," being "so out of line to print the details of this nightmare situation," being "gossipy," having a "need to feed a voyeuristic society," lacking a "moral conscience," as well as "re-vicitmizing" the alleged victim of the alleged crime.
I was asked to "get a conscience" and to make a public apology to the alleged victim.
So here, I am going to try to right whatever wrongs, real or imagined, I have committed.
The fact of the matter is, the first job of a newspaper is to inform the public, and that's what I was doing with this story. I was not trying to sell papers using someone else's tragedy. I was letting people know this had happened.
You will never convince me that in cases of alleged sex crimes, the people who have come in contact with an alleged perpetrator do not deserve to know who he is.
Secondly, every time I write a story such as this one, I look at similar stories written by fellow journalists from communities like ours (Greencastle does not have the market cornered on the small town, everybody-knows-everybody category) to make sure I'm not including too many lurid details from the court records.
Why do I need to include details at all? Well, I'll tell you … I've found that if you don't tell people in no uncertain terms what happened or was alleged to have happened, they let their imaginations run wild. Yes, the things that are alleged to have happened in this case are unthinkable to most of us, but if I had written a story without saying what the allegations were, can you imagine what people might have thought … and likely said … had happened?
If you look at it objectively … and believe me, I know when you're talking about something of this magnitude that's hard to do … I was, in a small way, protecting the alleged victim by leaving no room for interpretation.
I understand this is a small community, and in all likelihood many people know who the alleged victim is even though I said nothing to reveal an identity. I purposely left out dates, ages and other information that are public record and legally publishable so that it wasn't me who put a name to the alleged victim. And realistically, many people who think they can say who the alleged victim is just don't know for sure, because I was careful not to reveal it.
As for the apology to the alleged victim -- I am sorry. I am very, very sorry that she is going through this. I can't imagine how she is feeling, and if what I have published has contributed to her pain in any way, that is hurtful to me. I do have a conscience.
But like other people, I have a job to do.
The police don't always like to make arrests. The factory foremen don't always like to have to do staff cuts. Veterinarians don't like to have to put animals down. Doctors don't like to have to deliver bad news to family members about their loved ones.
The news isn't always fun, lighthearted or pretty. I want to assure you, our readers, that I don't just throw things together or publish them without thinking them through.
I doubt very much this will be the last time something I write or publish hurts someone. However, I want to go on record as saying that doing so is certainly not the most pleasant part of my job.