“You are a leech,” a critic of my reporting told me over lunch this week. “You thrive on the misery of others.”
Her complaints focus, primarily, on my reporting on the happenings in Floyd County Circuit Court.
“Let’s face it,” she said. “You enjoy embarrassing people who have tripped up and face prison sentences.”
Never thought of crime reporting as something to enjoy. Even after a half-century of writing about crime and punishment, I’m still shocked at some of what I see in the courtroom and read on indictments and police reports.
So I tried to explain that what I do as a newspaperman is report on what happens in court. I try to approach court dispassionately but admit it is hard, especially when it comes to child or spousal abuse or sexual molestation.
“But you get it wrong too much,” she said.
I asked for specifics. She could not give any.
“I hear about your mistakes,” she said.
If a reader reports that they feel was a factual error to a news media outlet like The Floyd Press, the information in the story is double checked and corrected if incorrect.
“What about your blog? Who corrects that?”
I explained that if someone comes to me with, via email or phone call or comment on Blue Ridge Muse, and says something I wrote was wrong, I go back to the source of the information and double-check what I wrote. An email saying “you are full of sh-t” does not provide any details needed.
Most of the time, the “mistake” is a disagreement over something I wrote in an opinion column.
Often a complaint comes in because I wrote about the criminal record of someone or their involvement in something controversial.
“What gives you the right to publicly embarrass someone because of a mistake?”
Again, I tried to explain that I was reporting facts that come from public information in a court record, a police report or other source of verified information. It is done to report news, not embarrass anyone.
“But why write about it? Whose business is it of you or anyone else?”
Because it is news, I said. When a popular restaurant owner is convicted of embezzlement because she diverted funds intended to pay for taxes for other purposes, it is news. If someone goes to prison for engaging in child pornography, it is news of public interest. The stories are based on public record verified by court documents and from attending and reporting on public hearings in Circuit Court.
Lawyers sometimes complain when I write about their clients. Such information is also public record and the reporting is based on information provided in those records and may also include comments from witnesses to the claimed crime.
Lawyers have their duties. I have mine.
When this topic came up on Facebook recently, three posters claimed “widespread errors” in what I write about crime and the courts in Floyd County. I asked those who made the claims to give details on what case, what mistakes and when it occurred. Not one responded.
When a candidate for office claimed that what I reported on in his actions of a campaign was wrong or biased and complained, not to me or any editors but in a Facebook post, I publicly asked him to give details on what he felt was wrong and the names of those who gave him the information that he used in campaign claims so I could talk to them to get details on what they said happened and correct any errors in what I reported. Again, no response.
Covering courts and the crimes that lead to arrests and convictions is not fun. It is often tedious and sometimes depressing. What I report in The Floyd Press, and sometimes in other BH Media papers, is checked by editors.
For the record, I enjoy photographing and filming music, sports and features. The other stuff is part of a job, nothing more.
If anyone reports details on something that they feel was incorrect, I will recheck the sources of the information and, if in error, correct it. I have, over the years, apologized publicly when I realized that I made a mistake in news judgement. It happens. I’m human.
However, anyone who feels that I get any pleasure from reporting on crime and punishment does not know me and is wrong.