From the editor’s desk: reporting on crime

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“We don’t go into journalism to be popular. It is our job to seek the truth and put constant pressure on our leaders until we get answers.”
Helen Thomas

I would like to address some criticism I’ve received regarding the brief story on the recent arrest of a member of town government currently seeking reelection.

The story – which noted that a town councilor had been arrested for possession of more than an ounce of marijuana – led several people to accuse the site of political bias and even intent to slander on social media. Others asserted that the article was not news, and defended the councilor’s character.

Everyone knows that across the country, marijuana laws are changing. The charge the councilor is facing now amounts to merely a misdemeanor, and possession of smaller quantities was completely decriminalized in Rhode Island in 2013. Medical marijuana has seen even more change in the state, with the list of ailments for which the substance can be prescribed continually expanding. In nearby Massachusetts, the same individual would not have even faced a fine, and his name would never have appeared in a police log.

A poll from 2017 found that three out of five Rhode Islanders support treating marijuana similarly to alcohol.

I want to assure readers of two things:

First, I do not take the decision to publish such information lightly. Despite being an “online only” publication, the aim at NRI NOW is to follow the same professional code of ethics as print media. While there are no laws against publishing news on even minor crimes, we realize there is a professional and moral obligation to impose certain limitations. The intent is to inform the public on information needed to make educated decisions – not to needlessly make others look bad. Frequently, stories do not make the cut because they simply are not newsworthy – even in a small town.

In this case, the fact that voters must soon choose whether or not to reelect this individual, and the reality that the person accused of the crime is in charge of actually creating local laws, tipped the scales toward publishing the information.

Secondly, we have no agenda. NRI NOW aims to adhere strictly to the principal of unbiased reporting and we have no stake – financial or otherwise – in the outcome of the election. The story would have been published no matter which councilor’s name came up in the police report.

Our job is merely to inform the public. You, the reader (and hopefully voter,) make the final decision as to how you feel about the information, and whether or not it changes your opinion.  If it doesn’t – all the better. Perhaps if you see injustice in a law that led to the arrest of someone you feel did not deserve it, you’ll be inspired to get involved and work to further reform the law. Or maybe you stand on the other side, and feel the current law should not be broken by an elected official.

Either way, you’ve thought about it, and that means we have done our job.

It has been a great first three months at NRI NOW, so thank you for reading. And please, keep both the criticism and praise coming, because we want to be held accountable.

Your founder and publisher,

Sandy Seoane

 

 

 

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