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The Blue & Gray Press | February 22, 2018

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Staff Editorial: On Our Coverage of the Drug Arrests

In the five days since the Bullet posted a news article online about 15 drug arrests, the story has generated over 100 comments worth of emotionally heightened debate between students, parents, alumni and community members.  Readers are still questioning, among many things, how the Bullet handled the article.

Did the Bullet need to publish the names of the charged students?  The mug shots? Why weren’t the charged students given the chance to comment? Was the Bullet being fair to them? To the community? Did the Bullet even need to run this story at all?

We would like to address these concerns.

The Bullet is a student newspaper, not a public relations mouthpiece for students. It is not our job to judge the actions of the student body.  Rather, it’s our job to report the news, good or bad, as objectively as possible and to keep the campus aware of what is happening.

The article that the Bullet posted on Friday was a standard, breaking crime story.

It stated the names, ages, hometowns and charges of the accused as they were listed on a press release from the Fredericksburg Police Department.  A simple Google search would have revealed all this information, even without the Bullet article.

We posted a breaking news story that included the bare-bones facts, a standard practice in online journalism.  We then continued to report on the story as more information became available.

We attempted to reach all the accused.  However, in the intervening days they have all either declined to comment or failed to respond.  Had they agreed, their comments would have appeared immediately in the updated version of the article on the website.

The Bullet decided to post the mug shots of those facing serious felony charges as they became available.  The original six photographs online were the first mug shots released by the police department.  The Rappahannock Regional Jail released the rest of the mug shots to the Bullet on Tuesday night.  We published them when we had a more fully reported story.

We believe that students have the right to know which members of their community are facing serious felony charges, especially since the police are still investigating.  The Bullet chose not to publish the photographs of those students facing only lesser, misdemeanor charges.

The Bullet editors made the decision regarding the release of the mug shots and names, not the staff reporter who wrote the original article.
The harassment and comments directed towards the reporter, including a hostile note on her off-campus apartment door, have been completely unwarranted.

Accepting criticism is part of being a journalist, and the Bullet is always open to engaging in that dialogue, whether it be a comment on a website, or words on a rock.

Photo by Anne Elder/Bullet

Comments

  1. Ellen

    Still it’s not classy. This is a small campus and the students have the right to privacy in this matter. The accused are innocent until proven guilty and I don’t think the Bullet had a right to violate the students’ right to privacy. I understand where you coming from and I don’t agree with the harassment of the reporter, but I think greater discretion should have been exercised.

  2. Learn the Law

    Hey Ellen,
    Since you’re a little ignorant in the matter of laws and journalism, let me enlighten you. When a person commits a crime, especially a felony and they are over the age of 18, there is no longer a “right to privacy.” Your PRIVILEGE of privacy is revoked after you a commit a crime, such as possession, distribution, or intent to distribute illegal drugs. If a criminal, or even arrested person is of legal adult age these facts then become public information and can be accessed by anyone. They can also be accessed years after via public files.

    Whether this article was tasteful or not is another story, but please, if you are going to post, at least have a clue what you are talking about, otherwise you sound even dumber than the person you are accusing.

  3. Zac Tolson

    All I want to say is, good job Bullet staff. It may not have been fun or easy, but you did the right thing. Keep up the good work, kids.

  4. disappointed

    I still didn’t see an appology for those students facing criminal charges. Their liives have been altered dramatically and all the bullet is doing is playing defense. Students are forced to withdraw, cut their hair, and hide because of this article. Show some respect. These student are going through such a hard time. They dont need to bullet making it so public.
    you were only displaying the mugshots to show people “which members of their community are facing serious felony charges” but some of those felonies arent even going to stick and a few students will be not have to face any charges. Yet this bullet article is now going to haunt them and prevent them from future employment. hope you don’t mind that hanging over your head.

  5. Anon

    Disappointed, thesee students are going through a hard time because they made terrible choices. It’s their own fault that they thought it was a brilliant idea to Fedex a couple pounds of weed and think they wouldn’t get caught. I think this article is the least of their worries when it comes to future employment. I would think that felony charges carry a bit more weight than an article a campus newspaper wrote.

    People can defend the charged students all they want, but in the end what matters is that they broke the law, and in today’s information age, the notion that information about these crimes would not surface is absurd. Wake up people.

  6. Too Bad

    @diappointed

    Well then maybe they should have thought a little harder about dealing with illegal drugs huh? We are adults now, play time is over. If you are dumb enough to f**k up then there will be consequences.

  7. Emilie

    Disappointed – This is all information that is available to the public. If I were one of the accused, a newspaper article would be the least of my worries at the moment, and/or in the future when seeking employment. If the charges on these students are reduced or dropped, the Bullet will then publish a retraction or an article that states just that.

  8. Loopy-de-Loop

    @ Learn the Law

    Last time I checked, “charged” was not the same as “convicted.” You need to read the article again, since in your eagerness to engage in name-calling you seem to have neglected the fact that none of these people have been found guilty of committing a felony.

    What we have here are people who have been accused of dealing drugs. I’m sure in your mind, being accused is the same as being convicted. This is because you have never been accused of a serious crime.

    Regardless of legal rights, it was in very poor taste of this newspaper to publish peoples’ pictures. Names, I could see. But pictures? If the information is online, as you say, then let people who seek out that information acquire it. There is no need for a campus newsletter to start a witch hunt.

  9. Vector12

    So, you don’t want there names or faces published because they are “accused.” Okay, so what do they do when they go to court? Hide behind a chinese silk screen where no one can see them? What a joke . . . your an adult . . . mommy and daddy can’t cover for you anymore. Your in the big leagues now playing with the professionals that went to school to learn how to catch you and prosecute you. What is sad is that those that did it didn’t research the consequences before getting into this stuff.

  10. Meg Baker

    The pictures do not violate privacy, as has been stated. Publishing the photos is also not in poor taste. If you are going to argue all of these points, perhaps you should be aware that this is how a newspaper handles these events. If you have a problem with how The Bullet published the story, then I hope to see the same outrage directed at similar stories in The Free Lance-Star, The Washington Post, The New York Times, etc., because they all follow the same guidelines.

    The only reason people feel they can attack The Bullet is because it is close to home, it is small, it is people we know. It’s easier to place blame on someone our age than someone older. The story is not biased, because not once did The Bullet say “they deserved it” or “boy were they dumb” – they reported the cold, hard facts and are updating the story as more information comes their way.

    Keep it up, Bullet Staff.

    – A fellow reporter

  11. UMW parent

    To Disappointed on Oct.21.
    How odd to ask for an apology to the accused from the Bullet simply because they reported legitimate arrests. You write that the alleged criminals now have to “hide because of this article.” No. They have to hide because of their own actions and the resulting actions of the police. Having the freedom to report the facts about what is happening in our communities and what the police are doing is part of Free Speech. If these men are found innocent of the charges, I trust the Bullet will publish that fact just as publicly. Or if they are convicted we might ask them to apologize to the UMW community.

  12. Concerned Commenter

    Honestly, the sad thing isn’t the whole mugshot issue (i.e. the whole conflict between privacy/reporting that everyone else seems determined to hash out ad infinitum.) The really sad thing is that as soon as The Bullet tries to do something that isn’t a poorly-written, immature, utterly idiotic waste of newsprint (like, I don’t know, everything they’ve printed in the past two years), the UMW community either greets it with cold indifference (the tuition hike issue) or tries to beat The Bullet down until they go back to the aforementioned waste of newsprint.

    Congratulations, UMW. Keep it up, and you’ll get the paper you truly deserve.

  13. Cullen

    Whether or not the mugshots were released, it was in poor taste to publish them. You call yourself a newspaper of your students, and yet you furthered their public embarrassment by bringing a step closer to home with their student body know having total knowledge through A SCHOOL SANCTIONED PAPER. As if all of us didn’t make mistakes, involving drugs or not, they just happened to be caught by the police and it is now published all over the web. What really angers me is that many have not yet been convicted, or even see a real trial, and yet they will carry the shame of this article as long as they live. Your facts need to be double or triple-checked obviously because there are an outrageous number of inconsistencies. So not only does your paper need to step up it’s moral game, it could use some journalistic integrity and good grammar check too.

  14. Meg Baker

    I really don’t see, Cullen, how THIS paper is the one that is going to haunt them. These mugshots will be accessible to any future schools or employers without the help of The Bullet. This story was covered by the AP and Washington Post. So, please, go harass their staffs as well.

  15. Kyle Shearin

    @ Cullen

    It would be biased if they didn’t publish the mugshots because they were UMW students. Also, yes everybody makes mistakes. But not everybody commits felonies on this scale. There is a big difference and also a noteworthy one. What facts are wrong? What inconsistencies? Please tell us because the Bullet does double everything they publish and work very hard to be as accurate as possible.

  16. MWC Alum

    As a Mary Wash alum, I heard about the inital story from my Google RSS feed via the Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star because I like to keep up with MW and Fredericksburg news.

    We truly live in an information age. While all citizens have a right to privacy, there is also something called public record. Court hearings, real estate assessments, law enforcement reports, corporate filings, etc are all in the public domain. The Internet has made these records far more accessible and available to a larger audience.

    There are always hard calls to make as an editor, especially in cases where the news isn’t good and the parties involved are part of a small community. If a primary suspect in an aggravated assault case was caught near campus by police, would you want to see the suspect’s picture? What about that suspect’s right to privacy?

    As someone that has worked in news media for several years and has interviewed recent MW grads for internships and entry-level jobs, I can tell you that most organizations do not rely on Google, Facebook, or local newspapers for information on potential hires. That’s what a background check is for. Whether or not a person is charged is of no consequence to a credible employer. It’s the conviction that carries weight.

    To the writers and editors of the Bullet: thank you for doing your job, without seeking praise or reward, when it is not always easy to do the right thing.

  17. Well stated, Bullet.

    While publishing the names and pictures of the accused is not convenient to those involved in the incident, it is well within the realm of news. Provided you acted within the law and within The Bullet’s internal policy, job well done.

    Unfortunately, the intimidation that the reporter and The Bullet has received is criminal. I hope that any act that is committed in retribution against The Bullet is reported and investigated appropriately.

    Reporting news can be unfortunately uncomfortable, but it is a necessary service to the community.

  18. Individual Right

    The Bullet must have some sympathy for every student, no matter what they are accused of until proven guilty. The University of Mary Washington cares about its student body and their experiences both on and off campus to ensure that education parallel student motivation to better their lives after graduation. The Bullet, however, did not contribute the same aspect of sympathy, respect, and attention of the accused students’ privacy. It is correct that the Bullet is a news reporting entity like the Free-Lance Star, however, there is a significant difference in that it is geared towards promoting its student body, not demoting the minority “under investigation”. The explanation given above by the Bullet does not show any kindness, sympathy, and warmth for its own students that are accused.

    The article inherently created a negative environment for the Bullet. The threat towards the staff writer and misplaced anger by the student body as shown on the Rock could have been prevented if the Bullet had left the information to reporting agencies outside the University of Mary Washington. This is a great learning experience for the Bullet in understanding that, yes, it is a newspaper, but it is an Eagle newspaper that the student body cherish to know that they can feel trusted while informed.

    Remember, the intention of publishing to a close-knit community of 4,000 rather than a city of 50,000 should be carefully considered. It’s great that the student-writers are motivated to pursue a potential future career, but these young college student-writers are still learning themselves.

  19. jess

    Regardless of how you feel on the matter, the Bullet knew they were starting a war with this article. They’ve drawn a line down our campus, and everyone can feel it.

  20. Meg Baker

    To Individual Right

    So if a small town newspaper that was read by only a few thousand people had a story like this, they should water it down because they’re not trying to share the news on a large scale?

    News is news. The Bullet reported that news. These students want a job in journalism one day, and their portfolios won’t be full of touchy feely unjournalistic crap. They will have news that was correctly reported in a newspaper that is slowly gaining a lot of ground.

  21. John

    The students took advantage of our campus and polluted it with illegal drugs. The fact that they are students or members of our community does not exempt them from the law. Had they not committed such stupid acts, there would be no Bullet article about it.

  22. Amazed

    I’m amazed that protecting the image of nine alleged felons, even if they are students, is thought of as fostering “community” at UMW. What about the remaining 3,981 students? What about those members of the student body who actually believe in the Honor Code? Yes, I want to know who is a potential threat to my campus. If evidence is serious enough for police to make a felony arrest, I want to protect myself and my UMW “community” from the perpetrators. Let’s start recognizing that wrong is wrong and illegal is illegal, not just if and when you get caught. If we really believe in honor, we won’t put up with this upside-down thinking. Or if we really don’t believe in it, we should toss the Honor Code and face the fact the we are more concerned about an untarnished image than true honor and character.