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