February 6, 2018 10:20:08 AM
The Dispatch, as do most newspapers, values, encourages and is made better by reader input. There are multiple ways in which readers can participate in the conversation about the news we cover. Two of those ways are letters to the editor and adding comment to the online version of our stories. We welcome the input.
That is why, as a rule, we do not comment on readers' observations. Yet in recent days there have been comments made on three topics that warrant a response as a reminder of how the nature of news works and how we cover it.
Readers have noted unanswered questions in connection with two stories that, by their nature, have attracted great attention: the arrest of a Caledonia student on a gun charge after law enforcement discovered a threatening social media post and the arrest of a Starkville woman on murder charges after the death of a child she delivered at home with no medical assistance.
A third reader comment, that some arrested on felony charges have exerted influence on The Dispatch not to run the arrest or mug shot, we deny categorically. The policy of the Dispatch has always been to publish, without or reservation or exception, all felony arrests and mug shots provided by law enforcement.
In the first two instances, the nature of the crimes -- and the myriad unanswered questions -- appears to have created frustration among readers, who want to know the complete story. That frustration is understandable and is something we share.
It should be noted, however, that often news develops over time. While the goal is to report the news fully, there are often constraints on that effort.
This is especially true in crime reporting and even more so when that news involves sensitive topics, such as the death of an infant or a crime alleged against a juvenile.
Law enforcement often withholds information it feels may compromise ongoing investigations.
Often, that information comes in over time.
That is not to say that newspapers must rely only on "official sources." Often, interviews with neighbors, friends, family or others with specific details can expand on what is known.
That extra phone call, that extra interview can make a difference and criticism for failure to seek out those sources is often merited.
Even then, reporters must exercise caution. Reliable information comes from reliable sources and newspapers bear responsibility for that, too.
There are often limitations on what and when the facts can be verified, though.
Rumors and speculation are available 24/7. The facts are often less accessible. What we report, we must be able verify.
Readers are not served when we substitute speculation for facts. At a time when the work of reporters is assaulted as "fake news," our obligation to accuracy carries even more importance.
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