Here's a copy of this week's print column. It deals with how we develop some of our editorial policies here at the newspaper, and we sometimes end up breaking them.
It is one of those questions I get asked just about every day. No, not whether or not I think Andy Reid will ever lead the Eagles to the Super Bowl. Oh, I get asked that, too, but that’s not what I’m talking about here.
No, I field phone calls from readers every day asking me why we decided to cover a certain story. Or the manner in which we covered it. Sometimes I get a different variation. Readers want to know why we did not cover a certain event.
The conversations are not always pleasant. Sometimes people who call are livid over something the newspaper has done, or has declined to do.
It has to do with what we call our editorial policies here at the newspaper. There are some things we routinely do. And some things we routinely do not do.
The key here is to remember that these kinds of policies are not set in concrete. They’re flexible, and we deal with them often on a story-by-story basis.
This newspaper does not routinely cover funerals. We have adopted that policy for a reason. Very often in these instances, families are dealing with some of the worst circumstances imaginable. A loved one is being buried and the emotions are raw. Sometimes these events stem from a crime, sometimes from a horrendous crash or accident, always with a powerful emotional wallop.
Most of the time the circumstances involving the incident have already appeared in the newspaper, especially when it involves a crime or accident.
Our belief is that the funeral should be a private family matter, and we respect the privacy of those involved.
But that is not to say that there aren’t times when the news value is such that we ask the family how they would feel about coverage of the funeral. Very often they simply say no, and we try to respect those wishes. And sometimes they welcome the opportunity to have their loved one properly honored.
Last week, much of Chester was still reeling from the tragic death of Floyd “Pete” Nelson. Just about everyone in the city knew him as the beloved father of Jameer Nelson.
Jameer is a Chester icon. After starring at Chester High and leading the Clippers to a state basketball title, he went on to a sterling career at Saint Joseph’s University, where he led the Hawks to a stint as the No. 1 college team in the country. He was drafted by the NBA’s Orlando Magic and is a starting guard in the NBA.
Jameer was on the Chester waterfront soon after word came that his father was missing and feared drowned in the river. So were we. The vigil lasted a couple of days before the tragic news arrived from Delaware. A body believed to be that of Floyd Nelson had been recovered from the water. A positive identification soon followed.
In the days after the body was discovered, I started to wonder about coverage of the funeral. I asked a reporter to inquire of the family and funeral home how they would feel about media coverage.
We learned that coverage would be allowed. I sent a reporter and photographer to cover the funeral of Floyd Nelson not out of some sensational desire to make hay out of the story, but instead to properly honor one of the city’s treasures, and also to honor his son, one of the best things the city has ever produced.
In all honesty, I believed we likely would have received more criticism is we had simply ignored the funeral.
Our Saturday front page contained an image of the long line of mourners waiting to enter St. Luke’s Community Christian Church to pay their respects to the Nelson family. We also cut in two other shots, one of Jameer Nelson, another of Floyd Nelson himself.
Our headline was simple. It stated, Farewell, “Pete.”
Photographers were not allowed inside the church. We abided by that request. We did have a reporter inside, however.
Solomon Leach managed to convey what Floyd “Pete” Nelson had meant to the many people his life touched. One of those was Saint Joe’s basketball coach Phil Martelli. He called Nelson a role model, not just for fathers, but for parents in general.
If proof was ever needed of Nelson’s parenting skills, all you need to do is look at Jameer Nelson. A better role model for kids in Chester and every other part of this county eludes me.
“Pete” Nelson was described at his funeral as a loving and caring man who always made time for his family.
I’m glad that image was able to be displayed in this newspaper. Even if I had to violate one of my own policies to do it.
Philip E. Heron is editor of the Daily Times. Call him at (610) 622-8818. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. To visit his daily blog, the Heron’s Nest, go to