The Herald Bulletin

December 23, 2013

Scott Underwood: News, even when hurtful, must be reported

By Scott Underwood
The Herald Bulletin

---- — Newspapers sometimes walk a thin line between serving their readers’ interests and considering the feelings of victims and their families. The recent murder of Quayshawn Jordan brought the tension between service and sympathy to the fore.

Jordan, 21, was shot to death on Chase Street in Anderson. Police have obtained a warrant for the arrest of his cousin, De’Auntaye White, 18, of Anderson. As of Friday, White was still at large.

When The Herald Bulletin initially learned of Jordan’s death, our reporter checked (as we do in all such cases) to determine whether he had ever been arrested. We discovered several run-ins with the law over the past few years, including arrests on suspicion of criminal activity involving drugs, battery and guns.

The reporter and editors then had to make a decision about whether to use his criminal history in our reporting about his shooting death.

On the one hand, we knew that inclusion of his criminal history would cause some readers to regard the newspaper as insensitive and would likely cause additional emotional trauma for the family. We took both of these considerations very seriously.

On the other hand, our readers trust us to report all of the background — good and bad — that is pertinent to the news article. So, that left the question of whether the shooting victim’s criminal history was pertinent to a news article about his death.

We concluded that it was pertinent, given that the criminal history was lengthy and recent and the charges against him strongly suggested he had been involved in dangerous, nefarious activities.

We did, though, decide to place the information that specifically dealt with his criminal history in a sidebar to the main article about his death. This, we hoped, would create a degree of separation between the two topics, since we did not have an indication of whether his death and his criminal history were directly related.

After the two articles were posted on our website (the evening before they appeared in print), I received a call from Jordan’s former basketball coach. He objected to our article about the young man’s run-ins with the law.

I invited him to comment on the qualities that he admired in Jordan. The coach’s comments then became the basis for the first portion of the main print article about Jordan’s death. (We had unsuccessfully attempted to get comments from Jordan’s family, as well, for the article about his death.)

The next morning, an irate uncle of Jordan called to complain about our reporting, and I invited him to comment, as well, about the positive things that Jordan had done. He did not accept that invitation, but I believe the obituary published Saturday in The Herald Bulletin included the family’s perspective on the life of Quayshawn Jordan.

In the final analysis, The Herald Bulletin chose to serve the interest of readers by reporting what we knew about the victim’s criminal history. While we feel sympathy for victims’ families and strive to avoid needlessly exacerbating their pain, in the end, we are accountable to the community to publish pertinent information when we know it.

Editor Scott Underwood’s column appears Mondays. Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @THBeditor. Contact him at scott.underwood@heraldbulletin.com or 640-4845.