Sunday, September 02, 2007

Reporting the difficult story part of the job

It's been more than a week since I last posted here. And what a week it has been -- difficult and challenging for many in the Telegraph Herald Editorial and Electronic Media departments.

To review: A street fight culminated in a fatal stabbing. The deceased was white and the accused, in custody, is black. Racial tension. Racist messages and a photo (multiple times) so polluted our newspaper's web site the we shut down the comments feature. More racial tension. The fallout of all these events included expressions of anger, rumors of retaliation as well calls for calm and healing (including such a message from the deceased's family). A terrible week for everyone.

Certainly, our experience at the newspaper was not as difficult and challenging as it was for the principals in the story; but it took its toll nonetheless.

It is challenging for a local newspaper when a major crime occurs. Factor in the racial tensions that, justified or not, emerged, and the challenge is multiplied.

There are people who have the idea that all journalists relish covering crime, tragedy and human misery. I wish they could have spent some time with us last week. They would have seen no one clamoring for the opportunity to interview people in grief, people in anger and people in fear. No one was happy to have drawn the assignment to be on hand for a wake or a funeral. They accepted and carried out the assignment because it is their job.

We’re not looking for sympathy. It’s our responsibility to cover the news, including sensitive and emotional situations. Difficult decisions and criticism go with it.

News and information, especially in criminal cases, does not come out in convenient, balanced and evenly proportioned pieces. Certain facts -- those found in investigative reports, for example – are not available to us or the public before they are presented in court. Some sources and witnesses are more accessible and willing than others; that is not unique to Dubuque or to this case.

In any case, we will continue to do our best with this difficult story.

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