Reporting the good and the bad
Jan. 10, 2011
by Ryan Gueningsman

It was a hard week in the newsroom this week.

It is much too often that we are forced to cover news that is uncomfortable, and sometimes tragic, even in small towns like the ones we cover. However, as journalists, it’s our obligation to report the news in a factual and timely manner and many times, it acts to set the record straight and dispel rumors and false information that may have evolved.

Returning from the holiday, our staff learned two local families had tragically lost their sons – one had drowned in a lake in northern Minnesota, and the other took his own life after a short pursuit by local law enforcement in Meeker County.

Reporters got to work, obtaining the press release from the Hubbard County Sheriff’s Office about the drowning, tracking down information on memorial services for the young man; as well as preparing the other news story.

Normally, it is the practice of the newspaper to not report suicides when a person takes his or her own life in a private way and in a private place.

Various factors came into play in the newsroom when making the decision to report on the tragic incident that unfolded Dec. 31 in McLeod and Meeker counties.

These factors include the location – if it occurs in a public setting, people in the community are going to be more aware of it and talking about it.

Another factor is if the suicide involves a public figure, such as an elected official.

In this case, it involved a short pursuit on a public roadway with local law enforcement. That makes this news.

Our hearts certainly go out to the families of those involved in this incident and to those who knew Erik Horrmann. It is never easy to report on tragic events such as this, but it is what people are talking about, and it is news.

One of the primary functions of the newspaper is to dispel rumors and get the truth out there. In all cases, we will be sensitive to the family and friends of the deceased and, along with reporting on the death, will also do our best to report information on memorial services and things of that nature.

We feel disseminating this information in an accurate manner is actually a service to those who knew Erik, who in turn, won’t have to deal with as much hearsay about the incident as they try to live their lives in the midst of losing their loved one.

When tragic events occur, rumors often spread like wildfire. These rumors may include false information, and may not present an accurate picture of what actually happened. Our goal is to provide an accurate account of events based on official sources.

As a community newspaper, we recognize that the people involved in or affected by these incidents are often our friends or neighbors, and we take our responsibility seriously. We attempt to report the facts in a sensitive, respectful manner.

Reporting on each incident, as it presents itself, carries much thought and discussion and ultimately comes down to a judgment call we must make.

In this situation, we made the difficult judgment call to report on the incident because of the circumstances surrounding it.

In the technological age we are in, everyone wants their news “now.” It is our job to make sure that news is not only delivered in a timely manner, but more important, accurately.

Because of this, the newspaper established online blogs for breaking news items that happen in between our print editions.

Once we have a story verified from official sources and ready to go, it will often appear online before it does in the print edition, to satisfy people’s desire to get the news “now.”

It is the role of the newspaper to report the news – good and bad, dispel rumors, and be the source the community can rely on to find accurate information about what is happening in the communities we serve and are a part of.

Some stories may be uncomfortable for us and for those involved, but if we ignore incidents such as these, we are not doing our job.

It is the obligation of the press to report the news – the good and the bad.