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  • Last modified 280 days ago (Feb. 16, 2017)

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The scourge of crime

Facts are facts, and crimes are crimes, whether we report on them or not. And the fact is, we report them. We’re a newspaper, not a weekly shopper or a gossip sheet; news is what we do, and for better or worse, crime is news.

You’re the ones who tell us it is by what you choose to read. It’s not uncommon to see someone buy our paper at the newsstand and immediately turn to the docket page to look to see who’s been arrested in the past week, who was caught speeding and how big their fines were, and what justice was meted out to criminals by the court. Our readership statistics consistently rank docket items among our highest-read.

But more often than we’d like, there are crimes that merit more investigation, more detail, and more visibility. Those are the ones we report that show up as articles, some small, some large, some on inside pages, and some on the front.

This week’s front page story about child molestation is at the top of my personal “most hated items to cover” list. For almost three decades as a professional in the field of early childhood education, I worked with many children and families devastated by these heinous crimes. I helped to identify and turn in abusers. I testified at trials. I tried to teach caregivers how to deal with children whose lives and behaviors were anything but normal.

We’re ready for the inevitable criticism that will be levied at us by some for putting such a story on the front page. People have a right to express their opinions about us, like anything else.

Some will accuse us of putting it there to sell more newspapers, unwittingly demonstrating that they haven’t much of a clue about how our business really works.

As a subscription-based newspaper, the vast majority of our readers buy us a year or two years at a time. They buy us, and renew their subscriptions, based on the totality of our product, not one issue. Articles like the one in question don’t net us a single extra dime from those folks.

If history holds, it’s true we’ll sell a few more papers at our newsstands, but the bulk of those purchases are almost all regular weekly purchasers who don’t want to wait until Thursday to get Wednesday’s paper in the mail. My Mom was one of those before she moved to Atlanta, as Greg Carlson could probably attest to, since she usually dropped by his store frequently beginning at 9 a.m. every Wednesday until she scored her copy for the week. We’ll welcome the extra readers, but there’s no sudden windfall in weeks such as this. There aren’t any alternative facts here, just the plain and simple truth that what goes on the front page has little to do with profit, but everything to do with newsworthiness and reader interest.

We also get the occasional complaint that putting bad news on the front page is bad public relations for the community. If someone thinking about moving here sees a negative story in the paper, they might not choose to come, even though we print far more good news than bad.

So why, then, has the population shifted to urban areas with huge daily doses of negative news in print and on air?

There’s no doubt stories like this are shocking and upsetting, but people need to be upset about this and other crimes, upset enough to do something about them.

We’ve reported our hometown district court judge Mike Powers saying that Marion County has one of the highest rates of child sexual abuse of any area of the state. He’s not sure why, and neither are we.

I can easily justify putting this story on the front page because I want to send a message to criminals that Marion won’t tolerate this kind of crime. If we get wind of something like this, I want those unseen perpetrators to know in no uncertain terms that their neighbors will turn them in, our officers will hunt them down and put them away for a very long time. Prison time is only a deterrent if people know that it’s used. If just one perpetrator shudders in fear enough that they stop and seek help, to me it’s worth all the flak we might take.

We don’t like reporting crime, but we do it because being aware of it and taking responsibility for doing something about it makes us a stronger community. Crime happens, and sticking our collective heads in the sand abets the criminals and pulls down the community.

We’re you’re hometown newspaper, and this is our home, too. We want it to be safe, we want it to flourish, and we won’t turn our heads away and ignore things we’d rather not see. We’re here to promote the good, but we’ll keep shining an uncomfortable light on the ‘bad’ for the greater good that can come from it.

-- david colburn

Last modified Feb. 16, 2017

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