If you can’t take the heat, stay out of the paper
“Except as otherwise specifically provided … all public records shall be open to inspection and copying by any citizen of the State of Arkansas.”
If you read our paper, or any other for that matter, you might notice some things.
In particular, we write stories concerning police reports. Usually they consist of a summary of the report on page three in the Police Beat box. Every once in a while we feel as though an incident deserves its own separated story.
We don’t make up information; we simply report what the police reports state. Sometimes they state some interesting things, things students would like to read. Unfortunately, the most interesting stories can also be embarrassing to the subject of the story.
Sometimes, people want their names and stories pulled from the paper. To them, we can only say, “tough luck.” We do not need your permission.
A lot of people think we’re breaking the law, but that’s far from the truth.
In actuality, it is against the law to withhold most public records. Private citizens, as well as the media, have the right to access government documents, including police reports. This information is out there for anyone to see, not just us.
Reporters sift through these documents, pull out the pertinent information and condense it into a nice, readable format. We do this with little pay and little sleep because the public needs to know this information.
Students need to know what is going on at their school. They need to know what crimes happen on campus. The Police Beat helps students identify which crimes to look out for.
Most people probably just read the Police Beat because it is entertaining. It is fun to read crime stories, to laugh about dumb criminals and to be horrified by the lengths that some people go to take the easy way out.
Students don’t think the articles are funny when it is their name in the paper, however. That’s when the phone calls come, with allegations that we have overstepped our bounds.
As Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote in “Crime and Punishment,” “nothing in this world is harder than speaking the truth, nothing easier than flattery.”
Reporters know the painful truth to this quote. It is simple to flatter people, and people like to be flattered. They are quick with praise for a complimentary story.
Newspapers are not here to flatter and compliment. They are not here to go along with whatever people say. They are here for truth, and, as Dostoevsky indicates, truth is the hardest thing to speak.
Truth can also be the hardest thing for people to accept. Even if they did commit a crime, no one wants to read their name in the Police Beat. No one wants their friends and family to see the story.
Which is, of course, the point. Crime stories are, in some ways, meant to be a deterrent. Seeing other people in the paper for committing crimes should be a sign that, if students are arrested, their name will probably end up in the paper, too.
So, do not do anything wrong if you do not want the credit.