Recently I was approached by a business owner in town who felt that a story I had printed some months ago had damaged his business. The story had not painted a particularly positive picture but he claimed that the problems on which I had reported were not the fault of either him or his staff and that I should not therefore have printed the name of the business in the story, leading he says, to loss of custom.
I have spent a large chunk of my time over the weekend thinking about some of the moral complexities that come along with being a small-town journalist. It can be much easier to be a journalist on one of the big national newspapers where you are reporting on communities with whom you do not have to live day to day. There is a certain detachment in such a position which gives you an easier license to print without local comeback. In my training as a reporter much time was given not just to the law but to the ethics and morals of journalism. What to print and what not to print. What to photograph and what not to photograph. Reporting and editorial decisions are never easy. For journalists on local papers such as this one there is the added pressure of having to avoid compromising your stories as a result of your local friendships, contacts and personal opinions. Week by week I do my best to detach myself emotionally from the stories which I am reporting. As a trainee journalist you’re taught to be the ears and eyes of the public and to report the facts fairly and accurately without bias – “Seek truth and report it” is the mantra we follow. On this paper we do our very best to act with integrity and responsiblity. In the UK in recent weeks a huge row has broken out about the circumstances in which the privacy of celebrity individuals should be protected by the courts . What stories should and should not make it to the media? These issues have become more complex as a result of stories which can be put around through internet sites like Twitter almost with impunity. The issue of what should and should not be printed is hot news nationally just as it is locally. It is hard sometimes for reporters, especially in a small town when you end up knowing a lot of people, and everybody knows everybody.
We at the Omineca Express are very well aware of our duties and responsibilities. However, there a number of circumstances in which emitting details from a story to protect someone or something would set a dangerous precedent.