Most people in Buda and Kyle would say that this area is fairly safe – that crime is not their uppermost concern.
And yet, crime stories are some of the most frequently read articles on the Hays Free Press website. That fact gives pause to the idea that the coverage of crime stories should somehow be modified. Do people really want to read about crimes – or are they just curious, much as onlookers when passing a wreck.
Does crime coverage help our community? Is it a necessity in these times? Does the media have a responsibility to report crimes for the public good?
The owners of Barton Publications, Inc. continually discuss the parameters of our crime focus while attempting to ensure that our readers are aware of any danger and, at the same time, protecting alleged perpetrators from false charges.
With the change in editors at the Hays Free Press – Wes Ferguson taking on a new project in San Marcos and former editor Veronica (Garcia) Gordon taking over the news reins of Barton Publications, including Hays Free Press, All Around Hays and www.haysfreepress.com, as well as advising on our newest publication, La Prensa Libre de Hays – comes a chance to make changes in strategy.
The problems faced with reporting crimes directly from police reports is exemplified in this week’s newspaper, with the story about Gabriel Matthews, who was charged in early May with rape. That charge was dismissed last week with a no-bill by the grand jury. The charge against Matthews was dropped.
A lot of newspapers use stories that come directly from police reports. Residents do need to know about crimes in their town and whenever public funds are expended for police service, it can become a story. These kind of stories give residents an awareness about what is being reported in their surrounding neighborhoods.
But mistakes and changes can be and are made. Police and sheriff deputies only report on the information given at the time of the report and often do not know all of the facts when the initial report is filed. Evidence might point one way at the beginning of an investigation, only to point another way later. Witnesses change their minds – or new evidence shows up.
When is comes to robberies, dates and details are probably helpful, as these warn local residents about problems in their neighborhoods. But when it comes to crimes between people, is it always best to give the names of the alleged perpetrators?
A more responsible way to cover some crimes might be to report indictments and then cover the trials rather than arrests. By making this change, the problems that persist within our judicial system – evidence, witnesses, dropped or lowered charges – are at the very least vetted. More evidence has been presented by this time, giving our judicial system a broader picture and the defendent a chance to work with the district attorney.
There will be instances, of course, that crimes will be reported immediatly. A SWAT team was called out? That certainly is news. A bank robbery occurs? That will be in the newspaper and on the website. A store is robbed, such as Center Food Market was this weekend? Of course, that will be covered immediately.
After years of discussion and talks with editors and reporters, our policy of reporting crimes from grand jury indictments will be implemented within the next few weeks.
Both sides of the story – as is our policy in other areas – will be reported if at all possible.
That’s the fair way, the balanced way.
Newspapers are here to bring to the general public news that is necessary and that involves public trust and public dollars. But they are also here to protect the innocent, to make sure they are given a fair chance.
That’s our goal, to the best of our abilities.