Bad news is tough on everyone

Thom writes about the impact of covering high impact stories

Any time allegations of sexual impropriety with minors by a person in a position of trust and authority surface, it is very tough on communities, the organization, parents, children, the accused and, yes, even journalists.

The decision to publish is fraught with peril.

We know there are going to be far-reaching impacts on a lot of people.

We know the accused could be innocent, in fact, is innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

We know there are going to be publication bans, at least on the names of victims, but also on any information that could lead to victims being identified.

And we know we are going to get accused of everything from shoddy reporting to financial motivation to gossip to libel.

That is OK, we are used to the shoot-the-messenger syndrome.

My favourite instance is the drug dealer who called me up to complain that I ruined his life.

It was obviously disconcerting, but for the life of me, I could not remember having been the one who sold the undercover police officer the cocaine.

As I recall, I was also not the one who issued the press release on the bust, nor the one who prosecuted the case, nor the one who convicted him of the crime.

Ultimately publishing is based on what is in the public interest.

I should make a distinction here between what is in the public interest and what the public is interested in.

A prominent cabinet minister, single, is involved in an intimate relationship with another single man half his age. Lots of people might be interested in this, but ultimately it is nobody’s business. Consenting adults, yada, yada.

In the course of engaging in said relationship, minister leaves top secret documents lying around. Public interest.

Of course, it is not always so black and white.

Say the minister is married. Some would argue that is in the public interest because it goes to character, but, in my opinion, still nobody’s business, except maybe his spouse and family.

But what if he is, at the same time, introducing anti-LGBTQ legislation?

It is sometimes a fine line, but what we cannot do is try to sweep cases such as the one currently rocking the local gymnastics club under the rug.

Yes, there are cases in which people are wrongfully accused. Yes, there are cases in which the justice system fails. Yes, there are cases in which media outlets get it wrong.

But sexual interference of children is a massive societal problem.

In 2016, there were 6,178 police-reported sexual violations against children in Canada according to Statistics Canada (StatsCan). The number that don’t get reported could be as high as 95 per cent, although StatsCan warns to use that percentage with caution. Even if it were much lower, say, 80 per cent, that would mean almost 25,000 were not reported.

The vast majority of those reported, and by inference, not reported, were perpetrated by persons known to the victim, family members and family friends primarily.

A few weeks ago in Smithers court, we had a rash of these cases that ultimately we could not report on at all because any information from the case could potentially identify victims.

If I am being honest, there is a kind of rush to chasing down breaking news and competing with other media outlets to have it first.

At the end of the day, however, I hate these stories just as much as anybody else does.

It makes me angry there are so many people (mostly men) out there who have these unspeakable appetites. It makes me sad that in so many cases, they are compelled by their own childhood victimization, addictions and mental health issues.

It can be stressful and depressing.

In one particular case in Yorkton, SK, I had to watch an 11-year-old girl testify about what was done to her. I do not want to diminish the experiences of people who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), nor do I want to self-diagnose, but all I can say is that when that case was over, I experienced mild PTSD-like symptoms.

A lot of journalists do.

We are not vultures, but we do have an important job to do.

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