The MySpace suicide story concerning Megan Meiers literally exploded in the press. Overnight it went from an unknown but sad tale from a year ago, to the hottest story online. The quandary that many editors had was what information should be contained in the articles and what information for ethical reasons should be left out?

This was a tough one to decide, do we name names, or protect peoples privacy. My take was while it is nice to have a breaking story, privacy comes first. The result was that we sat on information for several days and only released it when it broke in the mainstream media. Maybe the most bizarre aspect of this odyssey was the reader’s reactions. We were studiously avoiding names in our articles, while our readers were flooding us with comments, for at least 3 days we were swamped with names, street addresses, home and business telephone numbers. Even the client list of the company that Lori Drew owns!

Even though we tried to make sure of the facts and be conservative in how far we went, we still managed to make a mistake. Dave Bundy, Editorial Director of Suburban Journals Of Greater St Louis contacted me to point out the error. So please accept our apologies for the mistake.

Every cloud has a silver lining, and the silver lining in this case was the high ethical standards obviously employed by his organization, if all reporting was done to these high standards the press, mainstream and otherwise would be a far better place. I was so impressed by Dave Bundy, I would like to share his comments with you.

The story on Megan Meier that you’re running ( http://www.bloggernews.net/111857) says that the St. Charles Journal named the family behind the MySpace hoax in our story. We didn’t, and we’ve gotten a ton of flak for it. For some folks, our decision not to name the family was a close second to the most horrifying part of this story, and since a number of stories have mentioned it, I thought I’d let you know. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, which followed up on the story eight days after we broke it did run the name. The St. Charles Journal is one of 31 Suburban Journals we put out. And we and the Post-Dispatch are both owned by Lee Enterprises, but we each run our news operations independently and, obviously, make very different editorial decisions.
 
We debated a long time about running the names, but decided against it for a variety of reasons, the first being the fact that they had a juvenile daughter who was involved at some point but seemingly didn’t instigate it. Additionally, because when we broke the story Nov. 11 there was no more discussion of criminal charges or a civil lawsuit, there was no trail of public records (except for the police report about the foosball table). Our general policy on crime coverage is not to name someone until they have been charged with a crime. And finally it wasn’t hard to imagine the likelihood of vigilante behavior. We hoped the overall message of the story would be that parents need to be careful, kids need to learn from this, adults need to act like adults and the legal system needs to figure out how to handle this type of thing.

Simon Barrett

http://zzsimonb.blogspot.com

 

 

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