Among the things we’re most thankful for this holiday week are that most weeks’ papers don’t pose as many ethical and journalistic challenges as this week’s do.
Two stories this week present special challenges we honestly wish we could avoid. Both involve murky, public allegations we can neither prove nor disprove — but cannot simply ignore — against individuals who, despite any personal failings, have been valued contributors to communities they have served.
We most fervently hope that former economic development director Terry Jones, an energetic and at times visionary young leader, has suffered only a temporary setback in a long and promising career.
Life will never be easy for him. Anyone who attempts to serve as a catalyst for change automatically becomes a lightning rod for commentary, both good and bad. Like it or not, what such people do in their private lives often takes on exaggerated significance as well.
What’s important is to remember that all of us — especially in our younger days — make mistakes, and no one deserves to be forever condemned because of them.
Normally, once a local official leaves to take a job elsewhere, what happens in that new job is not something we cover — unless it involves an honor or outstanding achievement.
We regret that Jones’s sudden departure from his new position ended up being publicized elsewhere. Once it made headlines, however, we had no choice but to report it here — not to pile on but to try to address wild allegations circling the community and separate what actually is known from what merely is rumored.
We have attempted to report the story from what we believe to be the only valid perspective that should concern our community — whether his previous employer, the City of Marion, either unknowingly or imprudently, may have faced potential legal liability that might more appropriately have been avoided.
Likewise, the torrent of allegations that surfaced a week ago against fired Peabody paramedic Larry Larsen represented something we normally would avoid covering unless we could prove the allegations ourselves or formal charges were filed by an official body.
We chose to ignore officials’ request not to print some of the allegations in part because most citizens have been puzzled in recent months by a series of dramatic announcements that occurred without explanation after closed-door meetings.
Last week, for seemingly the first time, some of what may have been going on behind closed doors spilled out in an open, public session, and to attempt to fulfill our duty to inform the public to the best of our ability, we had no choice but to report it.
Since the seemingly abrupt firing 16 months ago of ambulance director Steve Smith, controversy has surrounded the department. The director’s position was downgraded, a physician who initially served as medical director resigned, Tampa’s ambulance crew was forced to select a new chief, complaints were lodged with state regulators, the Peabody crew chief was fired, and the director who replaced Smith abruptly resigned.
Honestly, we don’t know how to interpret what went on in last week’s county commission meeting but believe that, given the public’s extreme interest, readers have a right to make up their own minds. We therefore chose to publish not only a news story but also a complete, unedited transcript of a recording our staff made of the meeting.
With both of these stories, we are not attempting to stir controversy or portray any individual as hero or villain. We are simply offering you, the reader, the chance to decide for yourself what to make of, in one case, a regrettable situation and, in the other, an unprecedented level of disagreement that surfaced in an open, public forum.
Powerful politicians and business interests in both cases rightfully lobbied against our reporting these stories. That’s their right, and if we were in their position we might have done the same. We could not, however, in good conscience call ourselves a real newspaper, reporting the whole truth as best we can determine it, if we ignored either story.
— ERIC MEYER