, Gloucester, MA


November 16, 2012

Why Did My Newspaper Do That? Caleigh tragedy raises coverage issues

Every day, we face decisions regarding news coverage.

That means deciding which stories or photos should be on Page 1, where on Page 1 a story or photo should be presented — and, in some cases, what information should or should not be included in those stories or photo packages.

In weighing the last of those questions, I often harken to that classic scene from the 1992 film “A Few Good Men,” when a slick military lawyer played by Tom Cruise confronts the commander played by Jack Nicholson. Defending two Marines accused in the death of a colleague, Cruise’s Lt. Daniel Kaffee tries to show that his clients essentially acted according to the culture conveyed by Nicholson’s Col. Nathan Jessup.

“I want the truth,” Cruise demands; “You can’t handle the truth,” Nicholson replies.

I know there are stories and photos that readers may not necessarily want to read or see, yet represent important local news. And on that premise, we always present coverage based on the premise that our Gloucester Times readers can indeed handle the truth.

Yet even those standards can sometimes be challenged in covering stories about tragedy — especially a tragedy involving a child and local families. And all of those factors resurfaced this week with the discovery of a badly tattered pair of pink capri pants and the renewed media coverage of the April disappearance of 2 1/2-year-old Caleigh Harrison.

The discovery and the word that police and others recognized the pants were “very, very similar” to those worn by Caleigh on that fateful April day represented the first true sign of evidence since she disappeared. That obviously made it a significant news story, and we posted it on and on the Times Facebook site, while also working on a more thorough story for the next morning’s Gloucester Daily Times. But we also faced an important decision – whether to actually show a police photo of the pants on Facebook, and/or in the paper itself.

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