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The Daily Wildcat

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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

“Editorial: Public records, journalism not an invasion of privacy”

What makes something worth being called news is measured by its timeliness, prominence and significance. When a reporter evaluates a potential story, these are the standards he or she follows to decide whether or not a story is worth publishing.

In the Arizona Daily Wildcat’s Police Beat section, the reporters and editors must decide what is most relevant to the UA. Often, it’s just another sloppy drunk girl on a Saturday night, or it’s yet another theft of a bike without a serial number. Sloppy drunks and stolen bikes are a dime a dozen, but they’re relevant.

Other times, a Police Beat story addresses a much more controversial topic, and the journalist has to make a judgment call. But more often than not, a story about assault, death or suicide will get printed because these things matter. Being an uncomfortable topic doesn’t make it less important, and not publishing these topics doesn’t make them just go away.

Everything that runs in the paper is the result of an editorial decision, in which editors weigh a subject’s right to privacy against its news value. The ability to make these decisions is based on a journalist’s (and everyone else’s) right to access. Police Beat is compiled each day from police reports filed by the University of Arizona Police Department. These reports are public records, available to Daily Wildcat staff, other members of the media and people like you.

Legally speaking, there is no invasion of privacy when the Wildcat prints accounts of police reports. Consider this the next time you contemplate pissing on a UAPD officer’s car: The moment the report is drawn up, your privacy has gone out the window. Police reports are public information, which is as accessible to the general public, like you, as it is to any reporter. No one can infringe on your right to privacy if the information they seek is made public. That means your name, address, height, weight, race, phone number and university affiliation are available for everyone to see and the Daily Wildcat to publish. Yes, your name too.

Questions about Police Beat only become confusing when we begin speaking in terms of ethics. It is an editorial, ethical decision by the Daily Wildcat to refuse to run the names included in the report. Your Friday night fun might make a good story, but Police Beat doesn’t need to be the first result to appear when you Google yourself. Getting rid of identifying information is something editors check for. However, it is not your right, and if you can be identified from the information, your angry phone call to the Wildcat about privacy will disappoint you.

The headlines on Police Beat stories are also ethical decisions. The Wildcat is a college newspaper, where every intended audience member knows one of those people who get completely trashed and then arrested for public urination. These stories are funny so the headlines are as well. But you’ll note that when a story isn’t funny, the headline isn’t either. You won’t see a catchy, clever headline about an assault or a suicide, because it’s tacky and unethical.

Even more important than being appropriate, Police Beat headlines aren’t wrong. They note the differences between burglary and robbery. They’re not misleading. Even when they’re lighthearted, tongue-in-cheek or just downright snarky, headlines are accurate.

The Daily Wildcat’s job isn’t to shield readers from uncomfortable subject matter and controversy. If you break the law, your information is available to publish. It is our decision to remove your name, not your legal right.

— Editorials are determined by the Daily Wildcat editorial board and written by one of its members. They are Kristina Bui, Ken Contrata, Michelle A. Monroe and Heather Price-Wright. They can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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