EDITORIAL: On positive and negative news

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In this week’s edition, there is a heavy story that came out of court last week. There has been some feedback on our Facebook page about the frequency of court stories in this publication in recent history.

Specifically, there have been a few charges from some readers that we are depicting the region and its people in a negative light and ignoring all the positive happenings in the Beaufort Delta region.

I invite anyone who thinks so to visit our website and check out the stories on the Northern Games, a new storybook that helps teach basic Gwich’in, Tsiigehtchic’s efforts to get the Toronto Blue Jays involved in building a new field, or Jennilee Vaneltsi of Fort McPherson achieving a life dream by competing on a national television show, as a few examples.

We also cover the less than appealing stories. The heartbreaking tragedies, the political shenanigans, dangerous weather, armed and dangerous police suspects on the loose and court convictions. News is a very unpredictable beast and I really don’t know what the content of one edition to the next is going to be until it happens.

I can’t speak for prior editors but I do know that I have been specifically told that part of my job here is to cover criminal court. I can also note our court and crime stories tend to draw far more readers than our other stories, so for every one person who tells me that no one wants to read court stories, there are hundreds of readers showing me the opposite. Our readership clearly wants to know when these things happen and I would be doing a disservice to them by ignoring it.

Certainly, I understand that getting your name in the paper for a crime can be disruptive, especially if you are trying to rebound from rock bottom, but we go to great lengths to ensure that we are treating people fairly. Although I can appreciate some could feel frustration if that consistency may not be immediately obvious.

 

So for the record, we publish the names of people who plead or are found guilty in court – but not if a) it is their first related offence or b) if it could identify the victim of the crime or c) if the crime is linked to a diagnosed mental health problem. However, the facts of the case are a public record and will be published in accordance with the law, and of course  we will publish the names in convictions for first (or later ) offences in serious crimes like murder, arson, drug dealings, fraud and such. Essentially, mental health issues are a factor in our decision not to name people before the courts, and we typically won’t name people charged with minor, non-violent offences but serious charges may result in a charged person being named depending on the severity and public interest in doing so.

Beyond that, my best advice for anyone dealing with the court system who wants to avoid publicity is to work with the judge and lawyers. I’ve been covering court as a news reporter for four years and best I can tell the court system is incredibly lenient — convictions are typically the last resort. If the court is kind enough to let you off on probation or conditional discharge or some other bargain, print your release conditions out, memorize them like they
were your wedding vows and follow them accordingly.

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