Jim Pumarlo, Community Newspaper Training

Jim Pumarlo wrote a weekly column

  as editor at the Red Wing (Minn.) Republican Eagle. His column was recognized in the Minnesota Newspaper Association's annual Better Newspaper Contest as a consistent winner in the category for "best explanation of news operations or ethics." He received the Minnesota News Council's first "Accountability Award" in 2000.

"How can you not win? Jim Pumarlo's columns provide readers with information vital to understanding the policies, ethics, standards and content of this newspaper. It's well-written, informative and enlightening - especially so for readers interested in the 'behind the scenes' thinking that editors do every day. It's a good column. It might be something my newspaper 'creates' in the future."
-- Judge's comments Minnesota Newspaper Association Better Newspaper Contest, 2000-01 Best Explanation of Newspaper Operations or Newspaper Ethics, first place

"More papers should adopt this policy. You're not afraid to admit an error in judgment - something that goes a long way toward building readers' trust."
-- Judge's comments Minnesota Newspaper Association Better Newspaper Contest, 1997-98 Best Explanation of Newspaper Operations or Newspaper Ethics, first place

Challenges of reporting violence

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Red Wing Republican Eagle The murder of Charlene Swanson last month has raised the awareness of domestic abuse one more notch in this community. Yet it's one of the most difficult subjects we cover in the newspaper — due both to legal restrictions and to our concern for all the parties involved. Our reporter's excellent package a week ago gave insight into what it's like to be the victim of domestic abuse. We hope the stories also gave other victims of domestic violence timely information about where they can turn for assistance. For her own safety, the woman interviewed remained anonymous. This need to be nameless underscores one of the many challenges in reporting violent crimes, especially domestic offenses. We strive to give readers a true picture of violence, yet at the same time take pains to protect the victims. Missions collide The two missions often collide. Most crimes are reported by the R-E in rather straightforward fashion. The incident is noted, listing both the complainant and the accused. But special rules are applied when reporting physical and sexual violence. Details typically are withheld from publication, in deference to victims. Indeed, we purposely camouflage reports of interfamilial abuse, sticking strictly to terminology citing first-degree sexual abuse, second-degree abuse, etc. That policy change was made several years ago in direct response to concerns by social services professionals. Their reasoning is logical and we believe reflects the general community attitude: Spare the victim additional public embarrassment. Friends of the victim and those in the legal network realize the seriousness of the charges. Others need not know each and every detail. At the same time, by protecting the victim, we don't give everyone an accurate picture of the circumstances or the level of crime in the community. It can be argued reasonably that more explicit reporting could raise red flags for people in similar predicaments. Rights of accused Not to be lost in the overall picture is protection of those who have been accused but not convicted. Domestic abuse is one of the most horrendous crimes and often leads to public outcry for vigilante justice in the way of the Old West. Due process of the law is probably even more critical in violent crimes such as domestic and physical abuse. Rights of the accused are especially important when the accusation is most inflammatory. The U.S. judicial system still is based on the premise that a person is innocent until proven guilty. It's unfortunate, but the intricacies — legal and otherwise — of domestic violence hinder coverage of the problem. Indeed, local law enforcement authorities reported several calls from metropolitan media on hearing about the murder of Swanson. But once told that domestic abuse likely was involved, they didn't pursue the story. We remain interested in drawing attention to violent crime. But the circumstances of domestic and physical abuse place them in a special category.

Pumarlo.com • Jim Pumarlo • Community Newsroom Success Strategies • 1327 W. Sixth St. • Red Wing, MN • 55066 • (651) 380-4295