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?