by Don Heinzman and Tad Johnson
Dakota County Tribune
The news media is often criticized, and as newspaper editors, it might interest readers to know what editors are thinking when they report the news.
Those in the news media believe an informed electorate is essential to a thriving democracy, and they believe once voters have all the facts, they usually make commonsense decisions.
Dr. Ben Carson and other conservative presidential candidates believe the media is out to get them. While the national news media has been interested in finding the truth in Carson’s assertions in his book and other statements, editors and reporters like those at this newspaper also seek truth in their daily work as they aim to find local news that affects the public’s way of life. The news media covers local government because on most days readers are unable to attend city council, school and county board meetings.
Sometimes we make mistakes, and we are obliged to correct them immediately.
We don’t need to ask “gotcha” questions, even in local election campaigns, unless the query will reveal important information.
One of our suburban editors recently received a tip regarding the background of one of the local candidates. He followed up, asked some difficult questions and ultimately published the story. Had he not done so, he could have been accused of playing favorites. If readers sense that and lose trust in an editor, the editor might as well fold up the computer and look for another job.
For the most part, suburban election campaigns are tame, as candidates realize the less said on the record the better. They all favor better opportunities for young people, a better tax base and spending wisely while keeping taxes down. They aren’t usually going to tell you that, if elected, they intend to oust the school superintendent or the city manager.
We are careful to protect the reputation of persons whose names we print, since that is responsible journalism, but also because we could be sued for libel, which is intentionally defaming a person with false information.
In only rare instances and with multiple sources confirming facts in a case, local newspapers refrain from publishing the names of suspects until they are charged.
No longer do we print names and addresses of people who are on public record on the police blotter. Many years ago, many newspapers printed the names of the people in jail awaiting trial.
So, where can readers go to find the facts of a story?
Readers can trust the local news media to give them stories that are researched and edited to provide fair and accurate stories to the best of the newspaper staff’s ability.
Don Heinzman is a columnist for ECM Publishers. Tad Johnson is a managing editor of Sun Thisweek and the Dakota County Tribune. They can be reached through [email protected]. Columns reflect the opinion of the author.