Inside LINK: Town Crier feedback and our crime reporting

Lacy Starling
Lacy Starling
Lacy is the president and CEO of LINK nky. Email her at [email protected]

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Inside LINK is a regular column from our CEO, Lacy Starling. If you have questions you’d like Lacy to answer, email her at [email protected].

Last year, when we launched our weekly print newspaper, the LINK Reader, we decided to include a section many former Kentucky Post readers loved – the Town Crier.

Managing Editor Meghan Goth wrote at length in December about how our Town Crier was going to be different, but we still had some folks write in, disappointed that we weren’t running the police blotter or crime reports from the different neighborhoods.

I knew we made the right decision this week, though, when we got the following feedback from a reader:

As someone who has been arrested to later have the charges dismissed and also have many close friends and family members who suffer from addiction, I can tell you it’s a HUGE embarrassment to have our arrests printed in the paper for all to see and talk about. Especially without being given the chance to tell our side of such an incomplete story. I can’t thank you enough for making the decision to keep such information out of your paper. You have no idea how much that moved me. I know this will sound dumb, but I was almost in tears to see that there are still good people in the reporting business who actually care about the whole story and not just reporting the highlights at someone else’s expense.

The Town Crier can be about much better things than parading the misery of folks on their worst day or printing a list of people suffering the effects of substance abuse disorder. Northern Kentucky is better, and more compassionate than that.

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There are times, though, when we have to report on crime. We would be doing our readers a disservice if we ignored all instances of crime in the NKY Metro. We don’t want our front page to be paved with arrests and stories of police action – NKY simply doesn’t have that much crime – but bad things do happen, and we need to talk about it.

But how we talk about crime not only affects how NKY residents see their community, it also affects the lives of those involved. We need to preserve the humanity of everyone involved in crime – the victims, the suspects, even those convicted of crime. News organizations are not part of the criminal justice system, so we need to be careful not to play judge and jury.

To that end, we have a few guidelines we follow when we report on crime:

First, we only use police booking photos – mug shots – in two circumstances: If the suspect is still at large and considered dangerous, or if they have been convicted of a crime such as sexual assault and it is believed there may be more victims who would come forward if they were aware.

Second, we don’t write stories about mental health crises if they are victimless. So, a death by suicide where no one else was harmed, or police responding to a mental health crisis where no one was hurt or arrested. There’s another conversation to be had about whether our police forces should be the ones tasked with responding to mental health issues, but making these dark moments public does nothing to move that conversation forward.

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Finally, we are careful to make sure the balance of news on our digital site, in our print publication, and on our social media reflects the community. As I mentioned, NKY does not experience high rates of violent crime. In fact, most of the US experiences rates of violent crime well below the highs of the 1990s. It is easy to get clicks for shootings or other violent crime, but that’s not the story of our community, and that’s not the focus of our coverage.

There are, of course, nuanced situations where we have to interrogate these guidelines, but they are an excellent starting point, especially when coupled with our commitment to treating everyone involved in these situations with humanity.

Because as the reader feedback above proves, an arrest isn’t proof of guilt, and having the worst moment of your life plastered across the front page of the paper can have long-term unintended consequences.

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