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Newspaper's Website Inadvertently Provides Forum For Citizen Journalism

from the who-would-have-thought-that dept

Citizen journalism usually takes the form of a blog or some independent website, but it looks like it can happen on established media sites as well. Earlier this week the Ventura County Star was reporting on a murder spree but couldn’t get confirmation of the suspect’s name. Meanwhile, a reader who was following the case figured it out (using some internet research, among other things) and posted her speculation in a comments section on the newspaper’s site. E-Media Tidbits reports that the newspaper faced a dilemma on whether or not to take the post down. They didn’t, mainly because they believed the woman had guessed correctly. But either way, it seems harmless enough if people want to publicly speculate or give their opinion, as long as employees of the paper don’t participate in the conversation until the information is confirmed. The information could be discussed in a variety of public forums. At worst it could prove to be inaccurate gossip, at best it could stimulate useful conversation. Though the paper might feel weird about providing that kind of forum, perhaps it’s good for readership. It also shows the folly of the mainstream media vs. blogs debate — information can come from a variety of sources, and people will read, listen, or tune in to those who get it right.

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Comments on “Newspaper's Website Inadvertently Provides Forum For Citizen Journalism”

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1 Comment
Jeff says:

Citizen Journalism

I disagree, Brett. At worst, publishing such speculation may interfere with the defendant’s right to a fair trial by a jury of his/her peers, and perhaps even the state’s ability to seat a jury. Prior publication of criminal allegations can be used to discredit potential jurors — especially well-informed citizens who get their news from diverse sources. I’m a former police and court reporter for several newspapers, and I’ve seen it happen.
The citizen’s better choice would be to to provide this information directly to investigators. But as this happened, I think it would be more responsible for the paper to remove the post and forward the information to the proper authorities, whether the editors believed it to be credible or not. “Trial by publication” is not an option any American would choose. It leads to things like vigilante justice.
Also, what if the accused (presumably guilty) person happens to see the publication? That gives him/her a possible head start into hiding. Most people who are guilty do not turn themselves in.
Just a few things to consider … It might get you more readers in the short term, but the social consequences could be dire.

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