Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Trials & tribulations: The decisions I make every day

This is the part they don't teach in journalism school.

About an hour or so after a Delaware County jury returned a verdict Friday, acquitting home health nurse Melissa Deal of all charges that had been lodged against her in connection with the alleged theft of money from dying neighbor who was in her care, I received an email.

I had been expecting it.

It was from Melissa Deal.

It was not the first email I had received from her.

And it certainly was not the first time her photo and story had appeared in the paper

. Her name was splashed all over Page One, along with her photo, when she was first arrested.

When she was held for trial after her preliminary hearing, her picture again appeared on Page One, along with a snarky headline that played off her last name.

That's when she emailed me and asked that we not continue to put her photo on the front page. She also asked that we not try to spin her last name into cute headlines. She explained that it was having a negative effect on her kids. I assured her that we would continue to follow the case and that if she was found innocent, we would give equal treatment to that.

Melissa Deal never wavered in her belief that she was innocent of the charges.

She didn't take a deal. She wanted her day in court.

Last week she got it. And the jury declared her innocent of all charges.

That is when she emailed me to remind me of that earlier conversation about the media coverage of her case. She wanted to know if I remembered that I had told her of my pledge that I would put her picture back on the front page if she was acquitted.

I told I planned to do exactly that. In fact, we already had updated the story on our website, noting the not guilty verdict, and had posted it on our Facebook page.

She seemed genuinely surprised that I immediately responded to her email. Not only that, but I asked her if she wanted to comment or offer a few quotes for the next day's story.

She sent me another email asking if we could use a different photo than the admittedly less than complimentary photo that had been running with her story.

I told her we would be happy to do it.

I actually have these kinds of conversations all the time.

Every time a verdict comes in from a high-profile court case in Delaware County, in particular when a person is acquitted of the charges lodged against them, I go back and review what we did and how we played the story when the person was initially charged.

If their story was plastered all over Page One when they were charged, I try to offer equal treatment when they are acquitted. Yes, I can also admit that's not always possible. Sometimes news dictates that another story is in our lead spot.

It does not mean I don't think about what happens to people as they make their way through the legal system.

I have thought a lot about Melissa Deal as her case slowly made its way through the system.

"I'm just happy to get back to doing what I love, nursing," she said in Saturday's story.

Yes, Melissa Deal was back on the front page.

But under different circumstances, and with a different picture.

I think it's the least we could do.

1 Comments:

Blogger Mo (Maureen) Profera said...

You did the right thing. Hopefully other newspaper editors will put complementing photos of people who were wrongly accused on the FRONT PAGE of their paper. God bless you.

May 30, 2017 at 5:40 PM 

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