The Responsibility of the Media

In Weinberg’s article:

“…I learned about Reasonover’s conviction after she had served 16 years in prison; after she managed to win the attention of a New Jersey private investigator with a letter difficult to write due to her limited education; after devoted lawyers agreed to file post-conviction motions based on the investigator’s shoe-leather inquiries; and after a courageous federal judge — a former Republican prosecutor — corrected the mistakes of the state courts…”

“…The Last of the Sacred Cows
The typical situation within newsrooms today looks like this: Coverage of criminal cases is spotty and often superficial when it occurs. Elected prosecutors tend to be treated as the last of the sacred cows, the white hats who keep the streets safe for law-abiding citizens. The lawyers hired by the elected prosecutor are rarely mentioned in print and even more rarely subjected to meaningful scrutiny, despite their considerable power. The police in general are not treated so sacredly by journalists. That said, almost all individual police officers operate anonymously as far as most journalists are concerned, allowing rogues to make questionable arrests with relative impunity…”

“…Even the cases that reach trial almost never receive the kind of journalistic scrutiny that could reveal a wrongful conviction in the making. Instead, reporters and editors handling trial coverage simply summarize what is occurring within the confines of the courtroom, rather than conducting an independent inquiry…”

“What Journalism Could Accomplish, If Only …”

Isn’t it Time for the Press to Understand How to Report Criminal Cases

Steve Weinberg’s article appears at <””>. It makes for a long but worthwhile read in it’s entirety due to it’s significance in showing us the type of scrutiny our local media should be consider to properly and impartially report on criminal investigations, trials, and sentencing.

Local media reporters are not trained on how the criminal justice system works. They learn while they are assigned by their employers to cover the “crime beat”. Most make little or no effort to get to research the fundamentals of how criminal investigations should be handled, the basic legal steps that criminal cases proceed thru from charging to trial, to sentencing, appeals, prison and legal afterlife. Too many times reporters report the “hype” and “grandstanding” that takes place in the courtroom and cite it as fact to their readers. The criminal justice system is an adversarial system and often it’s parties are engaged in a public “sell” job in presenting evidence and filing motions. It takes a very experienced reporter willing to seek out schooling by attorneys and keep on top of published caselaw to be able to discern which issues are important, the true significance of what is being asserted, and what the current legal standard is which has to be met or addressed.

It also takes an experienced and very disciplined reported to just report the facts of what takes place and not present their own subjective interpretation of them. In today’s world of social media, this latter task becomes a little easier as hard-working reporters can almost literally tweet events and testimony verbatim as it occurs. True investigative reporting on criminal cases is becoming rarer by mainstream media and locals and exists almost entirely by independent journalist websites, pieces, and projects.



Examples of what our Rockford area journalists could be doing:

Per Wikipedia, “The Pantagraph is a daily newspaper that serves BloomingtonNormal, Illinois, along with 60 communities and eight counties in the Central Illinois area. Its headquarters are in Bloomington and is owned by Lee Enterprises. The newspaper has an estimated 107,000 daily readers...” The Pantagraph is a medium-sized IL newspaper, but the quality of it’s news reporting is generally better than larger community papers, such as the Rockford Register-Star.
Pantagraph reporter Edith Brady-Lunny, explains the reasoning of the newspaper which led to her writing in detail about the Sheridan Correctional Center. It comes down to a dedication to investigating community issues that matter:

“…The decision to write about Sheridan follows other prison-related stories The Pantagraph has done, including stories on the former death row facility in Pontiac and the women’s prison in Lincoln, Illinois. It’s the paper’s view that people sent to prison will one day return to and impact the community, and that, plus the large amount of taxpayer money involved, makes coverage of prison issues both relevant and important to our readers…” See the Pantagraph story here.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s