GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

January 19, 2013

Why Did My Newspaper Do That? The named and the unnamed

Why Did My Newspaper Do That?
Ray Lamont

---- — The front page of Wednesday’s Times this week included a couple of downright chilling stories.

One was about a local nurse who faces multiple charges because, according to police reports, she declined to take a visiting teenager to the hospital after an underage drinking party at the nurse’s West Gloucester home, and instead injected her with a dose of anti-nausea medication she had brought home from her job at a Rockport nursing home.

The other was the story about the 21-year-old city man who is facing statutory rape allegations in the aftermath of a New Years Eve drinking session he allegedly had with teenagers in a room he reportedly rented at a local resort.

Each story was largely drawn from the reports as documented by Gloucester police, though staff writer James Niedzinski, who crafted both reports, especially made additional calls regarding the case involving the charges and criminal complaints filed against the nurse and her husband. The stories obviously named the accused parties in both instances, recognizing that these are charges, and that no one has yet been convicted of anything.

But there were a lot of parties who were referenced and not named as well.

We did not and absolutely would not name or give any indication to the identity of the victim in the rape case; like nearly all other media, we never name any victims of cases involving sexual assault — and would not, unless a person is killed in the commission of such an assault and thus becomes a murder victim. We don’t generally list victims of any crime unless there are extenuating circumstances. That’s not just out of respect for the victims; it can also be a very real case of protecting their safety, lest the same assailant or other perpetrator find out the name and possibly the address of someone who would all too easily then be victimized again.

In this week’s cases, we also did not list the names of other people who were not charged. While we noted that the statutory rape incident was reported to Gloucester police by Philip Conrad, the principal of Rockport Middle/High School, we certainly did not name parents or other adults who aided in bringing word of the crime to police. And while we noted that, in the nurse’s case, the drinking party included other teens and the 23-year-old boyfriend of the girl hosting the party, we did not name the teens or the 23-year-old.

Why not? Why, in other words, did your community’s newspaper do that?

In the cases of the teenagers, nearly all were juveniles, and police had rightfully redacted — or blacked out — their names from the various reports.

Many people believe it is illegal for newspapers or other media to print or broadcast the names of juveniles who are under the age of 17; it’s not. That perception comes from the fact that police and courts are barred from releasing that information, contrary to the arrest logs and similar information regarding adults, which are matters of public record. In fact, we have printed the names of juveniles in many instances, when there are some extenuating circumstances, such as serious injuries in accidents, school incidents or other scenarios. But police and other public safety agencies do not generally release the names of juveniles in criminal cases, they didn’t in these cases, and we generally abide by their rules.

As to the names of the adult witnesses, any naming of parents obviously could have identified the victim. And there is nothing indicating the other adults were directly involved in the alleged crimes as charged.

The bottom line message in both of these cases was not the need to identify all of individuals who happened to be at the scenes. It was, in my mind, the need to make parents and other residents acutely aware that these events occurred, according to witnesses and the police reports. And it was to drive home the point that both of these instances involve grossly unacceptable behavior on the part of adults who, again, according to the reports, allowed or even facilitated underage drinking.

As always, let me know what you think.

Questions? Comments? Is there an issue you’d like to see addressed in a future column? Contact Times Editor Ray Lamont at 978-283-7000, x3438, or at rlamont@gloucestertimes.com.