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What would you do if you were the editor?

By Chuck Woodbury

Here’s the situation:

You are the editor of the weekly newspaper in a small town experiencing hard times. Advertising is not easy to come by, and subscriptions and newsstand sales do not begin to cover publishing expenses, not to mention salaries for you and your small staff.

Lucky for you, the owner of the local pharmacy buys the back page in every weekly issue (the most expensive ad in the paper). That alone represents nearly half the paper’s ad revenue. Without it, the newspaper would have a difficult time surviving. You feel strongly that the paper is important to the small community.

The owner of the pharmacy is also a friend of yours. He and his brother (who owns the local hardware store and is also a big advertiser) and a few of your buddies get together most mornings for coffee. You really like the guy. You and your wife sometimes have him and his wife over for dinner.

But something happens. You begin hearing rumors that the man has a secret other life as a dealer of kiddie porn that involves some local children. It’s almost impossible for you to believe, but the reports you’re hearing seem genuine.

So you do some digging around. And, to your dismay, you learn that the accusations are well-founded and almost certainly true. As a journalist, you feel compelled to go public: You could involve the police and/or also run a story.

Of course, you know if you do either or both, the man will cancel his advertising. That will really hurt, maybe even finish off the newspaper. You and the small staff would lose your jobs. One member of the small staff, a single mom, has two small children to support. How will she do it without her job? Jobs, after all, are almost impossible to come by.

So do you do nothing and enable the paper and its jobs (including yours) to continue? Or do you notify the police, and/or run a story about the alleged crime, which will surely result in the loss of the pharmacy’s advertising and probably that of his brother’s hardware store as well?

This is an example of what many editors are faced with in one way or another. What would you do?

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travelingjw
1 month ago

There’ is no question it is a police matter. If it is true, you can write the story after charges are filed. But if it is not, you have ruined a person’s reputation. If as you say, it was easy for you to uncover, once you give the police the evidence it will be easier to uncover. Since there are children involved I will give the police a deadline, because in a small town there might be “other factors” that influence the investigation. By publishing a story you could allow the person to delete all evidence, then you’ve accomplished nothing.

Jake
1 month ago

Maybe I’m an idealist but I would feel compelled to report such a heinous crime to the authorities, even if his being convicted means no more pharmacy and no more ad income. Due to the close personal relationship, I would not report on the story at this time (but maybe later if he’s convicted). Later on if my newspaper were suffering due to the advertising loss, I might share with the town my role in the conviction as a way to demonstrate that I and my newspaper have morals, and hope that my reputation as an upstanding upstanding man might attract some sympathy in terms of donations and advertising dollars. Again, that’s me being an idealist.

On the flip side, if the small town is full of corrupt individuals, then the whole town might see me as a Dudley Do-Right and feel they can’t trust me.

Jim Harvey
1 month ago

Chuck – I’m a former prosecutor. I would suggest…

…report this only to the police. They should have, or have access to, the expert ability to gather evidence including witness statements, analyze the case, forward everything to their county’s prosecuting attorney for possible criminal charges.

As a Deputy District Attorney I saw many “air-tight” cases fall apart because the evidence didn’t stand up to inspection, because witnesses recanted or dramatically changed their stories, because a key witness was found to have a very strong bias against the accused, etc. If you publish something that turns out to be untrue you’ll both hurt an innocent person and get sued out of business.

Once the prosecutors have made their decision you can decide whether or not to publish, based on various circumstances at that time.

Nick
1 month ago

Writing a story about “alleged” activity is very dangerous. Unfortunately, that seems like 90% of our news today. Writing a story after an investigation reveals facts is much more appropriate.

Henry Mackenroth
1 month ago

The situation as described has several unmentioned angles.

  1. Doing nothing, or not reporting criminal activity to authorities, puts the person that knows in the position of “aiding and abetting a criminal”. Not to mention possibly endangering more.
  2. Writing a generic story is being “scare mongering” and likely to lead to discounting the obtained knowledge.
  3. Writing a specific story could be considered to be libel.
  4. Passing the knowledge on to the police can, potentially, lead to drying up of information sources.
  5. In certain states (maybe all of them) state licensed “professionals” are under an obligation to report suspected child abuse to authorities. I understand Journalists aren’t licensed, but I submit that the analogy holds. You know you report.

Therefore I submit, the most ethical course is to report the knowledge in detail to the authorities, respect their need for discretion to allow investigation, write the story (withholding names) saying, Authorities are aware.

Walt Howard
1 month ago

Chuck, to me, first of all, you’re comparing apples and oranges. Your scenario is criminal, the way RVs are being built is not, but maybe should be. Theoretically, whether a large or small market, news people should be held to the highest standard of ethics, to Walter Cronkite reporting. Nothing but the news straight up, good or bad, no embellishments, spin, or editorials. I say, in theory, because, sadly, much of the news today is not the news. It’s everything mentioned, and in larger markets, influenced by circulation and ratings.

If your small market newsman is ethical, it’s a no brainer for him. Confide in the affected employees, report it to the police, and publish the story. There’ a chance the new owners of the pharmacy will keep the back page ad, and disavow the disgusting previous owner who’s in jail with a “new” friend.

TIM MCRAE
1 month ago

Keep your integrity. Protect the innocent. Only investigate further if the police cover it up.

The advertising business is going away regardless. You do what you can to survive and move on or you die alone in a ghost town after everyone else has left.

Unfortunately small towns die out all the time. In your fictional case what happens to you and your staff is out of your control.

Steve Barnes, Kamloops, BC
1 month ago

There is no question! Without a thought you must report the alleged crime because we have integrity. But do we? How far does integrity go? Risk our business and livelihood or rely on the integrity of our subscribers and non subscribers to support us financially?
.
How far does your really integrity go? Will you pay cash on a $1,000 purchase if vendor offers not to charge tax? You can dream up the other examples where your integrity is in question.
.
Ponder!

Gene Bjerke
1 month ago

It’s obvious that many new RVs are hastily put together. But are all of them? There must be some honest and conscientious builders out there. Perhaps it would be useful to point out the good ones as well as the bad ones. That would be valuable information to someone looking at RVs.

Jake
1 month ago
Reply to  Gene Bjerke

Well, there was Tiffin, but they sold out to Thor. 🙁

Richard Hubert
1 month ago

There are 2 different issues here. The business side and one person’s personal lifestyle.

From a business side it sounds like this person runs 2 businesses that are well run, and therefore employ a number of others while providing valuable services to the community. Their advertising also helps support the local newspaper. All good.

But that person’s personal life apparently leaves something to be desired. If the paper’s investigative reporting uncovers some illegal activity on the part of a local citizen it should not be their job to condemn this person publicly. That is the function of law enforcement and local government to prosecute – if necessary.

So – the paper must not attack, accuse & convict any local person. That is not their job.
2nd – the business aspects this person controls have benefits locally. A publicized personal attack – without legal protections – could likely cause the failure of those stores, with local job loss and locals losing needed business

Ed Nopp
1 month ago
Reply to  Richard Hubert

I mostly agree with your comment, but i believe there is a duty of the news paper to warn the community of the possible wrongs. In that case, without naming the individual or the business the news paper ought to print a story. Once the charges and trial commences the full story should be printed as known.

Jake
1 month ago
Reply to  Ed Nopp

Warning the public = good. Spilling the beans before the authorities can investigate = bad. I mean, what if they need to send an undercover cop in to get proof of the crime? Publicizing could ruin that opportunity.

Uncle Swags
1 month ago

What a bizarre corollary. Are the RV manufacturers really child molestors?

Economics says your newspaper shouldn’t exist, too bad if you disagree.

And “journalists” lost their honor years ago, none exist today.

John
1 month ago
Reply to  Uncle Swags

Your last statement hit the nail on the head.

Ke Pe
1 month ago

If he is found guilty, the editor would probably lose the advertising anyway. 🙁

Drew
1 month ago

I think going to the police and not reporting anything might eventually kill the paper anyway. Then it would amount to doing nothing and just keeping quiet.

David Purvis
1 month ago

I think the key is that you evaluated your interest before you got too far into this work. I contributed over a year ago and renewed my contribution again a few months ago. You might do an article about what funds you received and break it down by percentage. It might help readers to understand why it’s important to support what they read, if they really want the information unbiased. I appreciate what you do and am not sure I could do it. An article like the one above helps readers to understand just what you provide. Thanks

Lois Johnson
1 month ago

I am skipping your narrative. Going right to the actual story. . When you buy an RV, you expect it to be what you have paid for. I work in a campground, I see at least 250 people over any given weekend. Every weekend, someone comes into our office and asks if we can help them fix something. The black tank lever is to short, afraid it will break. the water tank leaks, the stove won’t light, the refrigerator is not working, they smell propane, can we fix this and can we find someone who can. (some request are more serious) Yes, there is something going on regarding the quality of RV’s hitting the dealers. We have had our own issues. We had a 2004 Montana, it was quality to the max. We traded for a newer one and have fixed several issues. NO ONE respond’s at the plant. WHY? I believe the biggest issue is lack of concern from the plant and not the actual problem. This is my opinion . (we all know they are a dime a dozen) TRUTH PREVAILS/ CUSTOMER SERVICE IS A BIG ISSUE.

Louis J. Finkle
1 month ago

Social learning theory proposes that most people become motivated to commit misdemeanors, maladaptive behaviors among those whom they associate. Many of us raised in poor sections of industrial towns, living among fellow immigrants, find survival behaviors trump social graces. Such learned behaviors extend into adulthood. When someone commits a negative behavior contrary to the law, it is an obligation to report it to the proper authority. The issue of “reporting such behaviors” becomes more complicated when writing articles for public readers. Living the RV lifestyle, witnessing incidents of malfeasance, poor construction, service malpractice and misappropriation, becomes an occasional annoyance. However, writing about it moves the process from objectivism to subjectivism. Writing about controversial issues can be concealed in a generic manner by stating the issue without specifying “who, when and where.” We want to know what is happening. RVTRAVEL is one of us!

Rod Bauer
1 month ago

You should publish the names of the manufacturing industry insiders AND the names of the companies who contacted you. Publish the conversations and keep the pressure on. Publish when they pull their advertising and make a special request to the readers for support. Next I would solicit major newspapers and other media outlets to run your story.

Thete are a few things we RVers know and understand.

We all know change doesn’t happen easily. We know sometimes change does not occur without persistent, on-going pressure. We also know the RV industry does need to improve it’s standards and develop better quality control procedures and implement effective quality assurance programs which will result in a better end product.

Of course, oversight is necessary and therein lies the more complex issue. Who would do this? Where do the funds come from to support this function? Perhaps a grant from NHTSA?

Read their mission statement, I ran out of characters to post here.

Larry
1 month ago

You have set up a false dichotomy here. There is at least one more alternative, which is usually the best way forward – first talk to your friend, ask him about the rumors, offer to publish his statement. If the rumors are false, you help him clear his name; if the rumors are true, then you report him to the police and you publish the story. Weigh the potential hardship for your unemployed staff versus the real suffering inflicted on the child victims.

Glenda Alexander
1 month ago

Phew! What a dilemma! I’d report it to the police but not write a story until after their investigation had been completed. The sentence “… you learn that the accusations are well-founded and almost certainly true” is the key. I would want to make sure that whatever I wrote was absolutely true. I agree with Bill about having a conversation with a trusted policeman about the “rumor”.

Richard moffitt
1 month ago

As long as the truth is written and the information accurite just keep on writing and I for one will continue to contribute.