Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Express should be ashamed


Editor's note:

The Idaho Mountain Express received about 15 letters to the editor, phone calls and e-mails expressing objections to a story in the March 10 edition titled "Sheriff: Man sought 'suicide by police.'" Three of the letters are published here. The writer of one letter asked that it not be published. Another came in too late for publication here. The newspaper's response can be read below.

I knew Bill Kane. I don't know what demons forced him to take his own life, but I can state with certainty that he was a kind and gentle person and a good father. Many testimonials at his funeral said just that. He did not deserve the terrible, sensational article you wrote about the last hours of his life in your March 10 issue.

Have you no compassion? Have you no decency? Do you get some perverse joy out of inflicting additional pain on an already devastated family? Is Mr. Smith some overly ambitious journalist who wants to audition for the National Enquirer or some cheap detective magazine?

The Mountain Express should be ashamed.

I once worked for a newspaper where the editor was always very careful about how he reported tragic events like this. His name was Berwyn Burke and the newspaper was the Hailey Times. You own their archives. Why don't you read some of the issues from the 1950s and 1960s and see how a decent reporter handles delicate articles such as this horrible tragedy? It might elevate the quality of your newspaper to a higher standard. Or do you even care?

Jim W. Koonce

Hailey

I am writing this to the staff of the Express to say, "Shame on you!" I was appalled at the insensitivity regarding the passing of a loving husband, father and friend. To write such horrific details was inappropriate, to say the very least. I am sure that if this had happened to a close family member of the writer of the article or the editor, it wouldn't have been so cruel.

Lisa Flynt

Hailey

What an ugly story reported by Terry Smith, "Man sought suicide by police." What possible reason could you have for sensationalizing a family's misery?

I feel you exploited my/our friend's inner torment with your reporting. What if this was your family? How would you feel if your spouse or child were to read the gruesome story about their husband/father in the local newspaper. As you reported, "he left behind four children and a wife," and all of them can read. For God's sake, I certainly hope you notified the wife before you ran the story.

Discretion should have been used. Shame on you Mountain Express for letting the story run as written.

Kathy Nice

Hailey

Response:

The Idaho Mountain Express stands by the story.

The Express, like most newspapers, does not report most suicides as news. The newspaper's policy is to report suicides only when the event has a public component—if it happens in a public place, involves a highly visible public response, directly engages public safety officials or is carried out by a well-known public figure.

In this case, law enforcement was summoned to the scene and two sheriff's deputies were—according to the sheriff's report—directly engaged by Mr. Kane. It was reported that Mr. Kane shot his gun once in the direction of the officers and also discharged his firearm in their presence several other times. Eventually, medical personnel reported to the scene to attempt to save Mr. Kane's life.

There are several reasons a newspaper would report on such an incident. The most important reason is for the newspaper to perform its function of serving the public interest by presenting the news. When law enforcement officers are engaged in an incident in which gunshots are fired, it is the responsibility of the news media to tell people the details of what happened. To not do so could easily result in the spread of fear, misinformation and misunderstanding that comes with the rumor mill.

The story presented a series of facts—as reported by the Blaine County Sheriff's Office—that provided the context of the incident and answered the difficult questions the media has a responsibility to answer. A report that provided only a brief, broad outline of the incident certainly would have prompted some readers to allege that the newspaper had not done its job. And they would have been right.

Three people who commented on the story alleged that it was "mocking" or "sarcastic." Simply put, that is just not the case. The story presented the reported facts of the incident followed by some direct extractions from Mr. Kane's obituary, which were included to provide a fuller picture of the man as he was known in the community.

The events of March 6 in Muldoon Canyon were sad and tragic. The Express offers its condolences to all of Mr. Kane's friends, family and loved ones.




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