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Bad calls, questionable perceptions and more

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By Becky Cassell, Editor

Sometimes on deadline, we don't always make the right decisions. That happened recently with a police brief published on page 2. The story really should have been on the front page.

Our courts reporter, Calen McKinney, picks up court news each week. When she comes back to the office, we discuss what she has learned and where it fits in our "story budget."

Recently, she picked up an arrest citation for Jennifer Rogers, a local probation and parole officer who was charged with five counts of second-degree sexual abuse.

According to court records, Rogers is accused of having sexual contact with a parolee last year while he was under her supervision.

Because her charges were misdemeanors, it was published on Page 2 with other misdemeanor offenses. The only misdemeanor charge published on our front page in my years in the CKNJ news department was the animal abuse case of John Humphress, and that was because it garnered so much attention and involved so many animals.

However, hindsight is always 20/20, and Rogers' charge should have been on the front page by virtue of her job as a sworn officer.

* * *

Some things never change.

It's been a while since I covered a Taylor County School Board meeting. Last Tuesday, though, I had to cover the Board's regular meeting for Reporter James Roberts, who was out of town for a funeral.

I arrived at the Board office about 7:10 for the 7:30 meeting. I found a seat in the Boardroom and waited with everyone else - except the Board members. At 7:33, the Board members entered the room as a group - from another room down the hall.

I'm not suggesting that they were having a "meeting before the meeting," but that's certainly the perception they gave.

And that's the perception Board members gave years ago when I covered the meetings as my regular beat. If I'm not mistaken, I wrote about the negative perception that reinforced back then, too.

Any time there's a quorum of members of any governmental agency together at one time, it is considered a public meeting and should be had in public.

Now that's not to say that the whole Board can't go to a ball game without it being considered a meeting.

But when all of the Board members are together behind closed doors, there's no perception other than that they are discussing business there.

And that's against the law.

* * *

In the past couple of weeks, I've been asked why we haven't published stories on this issue or that issue.

I have one word in response: Verification.

That's an important word in the newspaper business. If a news tip or rumor cannot be verified, then we can't publish it.

Verifying something can be done in several ways - through researching court records or other public documents, by witnessing something ourselves, by witness corroboration (the witness' name will be published) or by an individual who agrees to go "on the record" with something they know (which also means their name will be published).

If we can't verify something by one of those methods, then chances are we can't publish it.

* * *

Another note ...

Unless someone is actually charged with a crime - whether it's a misdemeanor, a felony or a criminal action - or a lawsuit is filed, we generally don't publish complaints about individuals.

Anyone can make a complaint about another person. What's relevant is whether it's substantiated or not.

And if that person is a public official, we'll be darn sure to print it.