Many readers who started with me when the Gallia Hometown Herald launched in October 2011 are aware of my “philosophy” for the site. Every so often, as I gain new readers, I feel the need to reshare that philosophy again to ensure readers understand where I stand on certain issues.
First and foremost, this site is not Topix. On occasion I ask readers not to post information they heard/saw from other sources until officially released. This has zero to do with wanting to be the first to post the information and everything to do with personal responsibility. On more than one occasion, the information gleaned from Facebook posts/scanner traffic has been misinterpreted or wrong, even when it is taken from those involved. I loathe having to print retractions. Not to say I don’t make mistakes; I’m human. Sometimes I understand the information wrong, sometimes I even get it wrong. But my ultimate goal is to always have the information that appears on the site correct the first time it goes up on the site.
Yes, sometimes, because I refuse to write from scanner traffic/rumor and because I am a firm believer in giving authorities the time to properly investigate an incident or to inform family and friends of a tragedy prior to it going up on the site, I may get the basic information up later than other sources. I am okay with that. The only exception to this is if the public is still at risk. In that situation, I will post information as I am able to get that information from the proper authorities. And yes, in those situations, I will push if necessary, though bullying authorities and others for information is not my normal style.
There is a reason I wait until information is officially released, especially with tragic situations. No family should ever find out their loved one was killed or injured through the media. No one should see a picture of their loved one’s wrecked car or their house on fire pop up in a news story before the authorities have had the opportunity to notify the family. Unless the public is in immediate danger, there is absolutely no reason why I, as an instant media source, need to report on it until the information is known and released. At that point, I am only working to feed people’s curiosity. And while, yes, it means I may snag readers first, it also means the chances of my snagging readers with the wrong information rises significantly. I will take right over first any day.
The same goes with crime stories. It is not my job to investigate a crime. It is my job to report on that investigation. This is the reason you do not see interviews with witnesses/family members. I report on the case itself as it moves through the system, unless the system breaks down. If the system isn’t working then that’s where media steps in. The same goes with other information I receive. Just because I didn’t write about it doesn’t mean I am not investigating it/watching it, it just simply means I did not find anything to write about.
More than once I have been put in the situation of investigating issues delivered to me by anonymous sources. Unlike those sources, I don’t take information at face value, but look at it from all aspects. But I do investigate the information. I don’t get to anonymously “stir the pot”, so to speak. My name goes on everything I write and I take responsibility for what I write. Before I publicly attack the reputation of a person or institution, I will do everything I need to do to ensure the information I have is correct and warrants such a story. This is why I do not report on civil matters, i.e. lawsuits or internal investigations/complaints, until those cases are resolved. Civil cases and criminal cases are two different beasts. There are checks and balances with criminal cases that allow me to report throughout the case. Civil cases or complaints, however, can be instituted by anyone at any time for any reason. I refuse to report on those cases/situations until the case/investigation is resolved. Why? Because the public perception is unforgiving. False information released by the media will stick forever, no matter how many times that information is refuted or proven wrong and in civil cases, there are no checks and balances, just complaints. Honestly, this is a daily struggle for me with criminal cases, as well. Society has forgotten that in this country, people are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. That being said, I do feel, in terms of criminal activity, people have a right to know what is happening as it happens, as criminal activity affects society at large.
So, really all I ask of readers is to not treat the Gallia Herald site or social media pages as their own page and to use a little bit of common courtesy when posting to the Facebook page. (Which by the way has a very strong filter, because I just do not have the time to monitor it 24 hours a day. If you curse or use certain derogatory terms in your post, it will be automatically marked as spam by the system. I don’t unmark those posts.) In short, while I try not to censor the site or Facebook page, I do expect posters to post with a certain degree of decorum and respect for others.
I know my view of journalism is not the popular view and may even be argued against, but in the end, it was the view in which I started the site and the view in which I will continue with the site.