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

R-E falls short in stabbing case

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Red Wing Republican Eagle

A reader asked Wednesday in People's Platform: "Why do some people's stories make front-page news and then when other people's side of the story comes out, it's printed on the second or third page? Is there a reason for this or a bias as far as the paper goes?"

 


The caller referred to Tuesday's report in which a female eyewitness to a stabbing Oct. 26 cleared the victim of any wrongdoing. The Tuesday article appeared on page 2. Her statement was significantly different than her earlier account which was published on page 1.

The female eyewitness account, in an Oct. 28 article, stated that the stabbing occurred when her fiancÈ, male 1, saw the victim, male 2, attempting to force her to have sex. Charges were filed against male 1. The article appeared across the front page.

The caller is correct. The follow-up should have been published on page 1 as well, especially considering the significance of the eyewitness statements. The decision to place the article on page 2 was not sufficiently thought through and fell short in terms of fair play.

Our treatment of the stabbing epitomizes the difficulty and sensitivity that all newspapers face in reporting crime, and especially in high-profile cases such as stabbings. It goes to the heart of the debate over free press/fair trial.

Criminal complaints, by law, are public records. It seems appropriate to publish some of the details that substantiate the charges leveled against a person.

The difficulty lies in the fact that complaints often contain no rebuttal from the accused. That may not come until the trial or negotiations between attorneys, which could be months after the incident.

The Red Wing stabbing was even more complex. First, the victim, male 2, did not face charges, but admittedly was put in a poor light by the initial account. Secondly, he was hospitalized at the same time the charges were filed against male 1 and could not give a statement to police.

Several people called when we first reported the stabbing, saying the report was one-sided. We declined publishing their comments. It is our policy not to "try" a case in the newspaper.

But we assured them that once the victim, male 2, gave a statement to the police, we'd print his side of the story.

We've yet to receive the victim's version of the incident, but obviously the statement of the female eyewitness was powerful. It deserved more prominent placement.

We've apologized to the victim, assuring him that as the case progresses and the facts are released, we'll give those articles proper attention.


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