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Discretion, accuracy go into what we report: Editorial

Posted 4/10/19

You might have read the story that the Press & Journal won many honors in the Pennsylvania Newsmedia Association’s annual Keystone Awards. The accolades covered everything from general news …

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Discretion, accuracy go into what we report: Editorial

Posted

You might have read the story that the Press & Journal won many honors in the Pennsylvania Newsmedia Association’s annual Keystone Press Awards. The accolades covered everything from general news stories to editorials, diversity, layout and special publications.

The awards led us to reflect on the opportunity it gives us to explain how we gather the news and publish stories. Why does the Press & Journal choose to cover the stories that we do?

The easiest and most concise answer is we use our resources on stories that have the most public interest — although that can be difficult to quantify.

Major incidents that involve public safety certainly qualify, however. Readers want to know why they hear sirens in their neighborhood, or why police cars were gathered on a certain street at a certain time. We can’t provide a comprehensive list of each police response, but we try to highlight prominent incidents.

For the most part, it’s not a job that we relish. It doesn’t always put our community in the best of light for those who see the stories from outside our area. But residents deserve to know how safe their community is.

With that being said, there have been three very noticeable police actions on Union Street, in the heart of the borough, this year already.

• A double murder-homicide which included the death of a 7-year-old boy at 134 S. Union St. The bodies were found Saturday, Jan. 5. Middletown police say Marvin Caddell shot and killed his wife, Nightflower Staats, and their son, before turning the gun on himself.

• Carla Nelson, 47, was found dead in her apartment at 21 S. Union St. on March 14, having overdosed from a combination of cocaine, fentanyl and Oxycodone, according to Middletown police. Joseph Alan Tozer, 32, of Columbia, is charged in the death.

• Police took into custody a man they called suicidal from a residence at 48 N. Union St. at about 3 p.m. March 15. Up to 20 officers from multiple jurisdictions responded. North Union was closed down for about an hour, as were several surrounding streets. It is not clear if the person involved will be charged. If he needs help, we certainly hope he gets it.

All three events were extremely unfortunate. The first two involved untimely deaths. The third, fortunately, ended without violence, although police have released few details about it.

In the case of the double murder-suicide, we did our best to put a human face on the people involved — including the person who pulled the trigger. Our intention was not to somehow make him look sympathetic, but to explain that all three were human beings, residents of our community, and that such events can tragically happen anywhere.

The drug overdose death is a sad reminder that we as a society are in the midst of an opioid crisis. People die every day in this state from drug addiction.

The standoff took place along one of the busiest stretches of road in the borough — North Union near Emaus and Spring streets. It shut down traffic, and led to armed police officers crouching behind walls and patrolling the street.

Location plays some role in the stories we cover.

If the overdose had happened in an apartment building in Lower Swatara Township, we might not have known about it because it wasn’t in a prominent spot. We wouldn’t have been on hand to talk to police. Hundreds of cars would not have driven by while law enforcement worked at the scene.

If the standoff had occurred in rural Londonderry Township, and no roads were closed, and neighbors and passersby weren’t standing in the streets watching what was going on, coverage would have been different because it would have affected fewer people.

It also bears stating that we use a great deal of discretion in what we publish, both online and in print.

At the drug overdose, there was the potential to publish more photos from the scene that we deemed not to be appropriate. At the standoff, pictures and video were taken that clearly showed the man’s face, his arrest, and much more of the situation. We chose not to identify the man in any way, because we did not and still do not know all the details of exactly what happened.

We put thought into these things, based on our standards, the standards of newspapers across the country and the experiences of our staff. The name of the person in the standoff and details about his life have not been published in the Press & Journal. The name of the woman who died in the drug overdose only was published after police confirmed it for us. We aren’t interested in printing rumors.

Criticism of what we cover comes with our jobs, especially when it comes to crime stories. We understand that. But we also understand that our job includes telling those stories, not to sell papers, but as part of our role as a reflection of the community.

If you have questions about why or how we covered a story, email editor@pressandjournal.com. We will do our best to explain, even though we might not agree.

As always, thank you for reading.