Answering some common questions

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 17, 2006

Unfortunately, the answer is always the same, no matter who it is: No.

It&8217;s not that we don&8217;t feel for people who might lose their job or their apartment or their dignity because of an arrest, but we cannot make exceptions in our duty to print the public record. Making exceptions would hurt our credibility.

Some people have even asked whether they could pay to keep their names out of the newspaper.

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The answer, again, is an emphatic no.

In the same way that we wouldn&8217;t shy away from negative news about an advertiser, our duty &8212; in fact, part of the mission that&8217;s printed on this page &8212; is to print the news accurately and without bias.

That mission statement can help answer many of the questions we get on a daily basis.

But whether we can not print names in arrest reports is sometimes the easiest dilemma for us to answer around here. Not everything is so cut and dry.

Journalism practices at a small-town newspaper are often a far cry from the textbook examples I learned in college.

Some people may think we&8217;re biased toward certain subjects or people, but we all strive to avoid conflicts of interest &8212; not writing about friends or family or groups we&8217;re involved in, for example &8212; but the fact is that in a small town, you can&8217;t avoid seeing the sources you cover at church or in the grocery store or at a ballgame.

When writing news stories about people we know is unavoidable, the trick, of course, is to be fair in dealing with everyone &8212; to report the news without bias.

Some people have also questioned why we have more &8220;negative&8221; news about subjects such as Iraq than positive pieces.

Without the resources to send a reporter to Iraq, we rely on Associated Press reporting about what is happening there. And reporters who are covering Iraq &8212; in the most dangerous of circumstances, every day &8212; have to write about the most important news. Often, that means the &8220;negative&8221; &8212; stories about suicide bombings and soldiers being killed.

But throughout the time that the 155th was in Iraq, for example, we received a number of updates about the work they were doing, and those Associated Press stories almost always made it into our newspaper.

AP stories &8212; or wire stories, as they are often called &8212; help us bring the news of the nation and the world to our readers. We try to leave the most prominent space in our newspaper &8212; i.e., the front page &8212; for local news, but many of our readers also want to know about what&8217;s happening outside Natchez.

A few weeks ago one of those wire stories forced us to publish &8212; along with almost every other newspaper in the country &8212; a story that wasn&8217;t true by the time it made it to your doorsteps.

There was a rush to criticism of the media outlets that reported &8212; as we did &8212; that 12 miners in West Virginia were alive when in fact they had died. Especially criticized were TV news reporters.

But it&8217;s easy to look at decisions in hindsight and to second-guess them. While reporters should have taken better care with the story, it&8217;s worth noting that most media outlets pointed out that the company had not confirmed the reports &8212; and that the governor of West Virginia himself got the story wrong.

Still, that doesn&8217;t change the fact that we did, too, and such misttakes hurt our credibility.

And in the end, that&8217;s all we have.

If you ever have questions about the newspaper or our coverage, I&8217;m happy to answer them.

But, I&8217;m afraid no matter how hard you try or how many times you ask, those names are going to be in arrest reports.

Kerry Whipple

Bean is editor of The Natchez Democrat. She can be reached at 601-445-3541 or by e-mail at