A conundrum of ethics
The Spectrum will continue to publish student suspects’ names
Published: Tuesday, October 29, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, October 29, 2013 17:10
The Miami Student, the student newspaper of Miami University (OH), has announced it will no longer publish the names of student criminal suspects.
As its editor in chief, Katie Taylor, has indicated, in today’s world, the standard for reporting is evolving. Today in the Internet age, if a student makes a mistake and is arrested and his or her name goes online, it is there forever.
“Technology has made this discussion pertinent,” she wrote in a column. “Tradition must be re-evaluated as the world changes around us.”
We agree that the nature of journalism needs to be reexamined as the method of communicating the information changes, but we believe it is a matter of principle that media outlets report the news to the fullest extent possible.
And that is what we intend to do.
People are human and we understand that. Young people come to college with the intention of beginning their adult lives and it is not uncommon for students to make mistakes.
Journalists sometimes make mistakes, too. If a college newspaper shares a police blotter that is inaccurate, then the suspect becomes a victim – because that reporting will be on the web for the rest of his or her life.
Should something like this potentially haunt someone forever? That is a difficult question and there is no easy answer; it is a matter full of ambiguity.
It is our call, however, that the news is the news. Media outlets are in no position to place value on one type of criminal suspect over the other. If a student is involved in a news story, he or she should be covered; if a professor is involved in a news story, he or she should covered; if anyone is involved in a news story, he or she should be covered.
The job of a newspaper is to provide the public with all pertinent information to their lives, and part of our job requires commitment to the truth – we report with complete objectivity over what has happened.
The question The Miami Student’s decision has impelled is one that attempts to redefine what the public needs to know.
If someone has been arrested for a crime, the information of that arrest already belongs to the public domain. When that arrest is relevant to the community members’ lives, it is worth reporting. It informs the community what has been happening around them and causes them to consider what could happen in the future – with certain people and in certain places.
When we publish endless police blotter reports of students getting robbed at gunpoint around South Campus, then students know what could happen around that area. If there were to be a pattern of students getting arrested, that would be pivotal information the community would need to know.
But there is a crucial distinction in our legal system germane to this conundrum: Suspects are presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. When we report on student suspects, we acknowledge this by prefacing the suspect with the word “allegedly” before the crime. Many readers, however, ignore this distinction and jump to conclusions. And many suspects are still disgruntled that their arrests have marshaled media coverage.
It is not the role of a newspaper to consider the protection or penalization of the public. It is true, though, that a college newspaper is a venue for a university community to communicate with each other. The prospect of having your name published in such a venue for impropriety may change some people’s calculus before acting.
It would be imprudent for a newspaper to ignore this specific function and act as if it doesn’t matter.
As we are living in a more and more media-saturated age, it is important to continuously keep asking ourselves how the standard of reporting is changing. But for now, we will not be changing the presentation of our reporting. For it is our solemn obligation to report the news, whatever it may be. And that is what we will do.