Over the past two weeks, we have led news outlets in the region in reporting the discovery of an infant's body at Minam and developments in the ensuing law-enforcement investigation. We posted the first story on the Internet, at www.wallowa.com, and had the first reports of a grand jury indictment and the arrest of a suspect.
Along the way, we received phone calls questioning what we reported, what we didn't report and why we reported it at all. We are taking this opportunity to outline how and why we report crime news the way that we do.
First, there are several reasons we publish news of crimes:
? A crime has been committed, nobody has been arrested and you need to know that the perpetrator is on the loose.
? A series of similar crimes has happened in one area and nearby residents need to know to take appropriate steps.
? A crime has been committed and law-enforcement authorities need help from citizens in the investigation.
? A crime has been committed, law-enforcement authorities have fallen down on the job and taxpaying citizens need to know about the lax performance.
? A crime has been committed, law-enforcement authorities and the courts have done their job well and citizens need to know that their tax dollars are being spent wisely.
? A serious crime happening in a relatively low-crime region should serve as a wake-up call. Are parents and schools doing their job? Should a multiple offender have been released from prison? Should friends and family members have recognized early-warning signs? Are crime victims being treated right? Are we failing to work on the root causes of criminal behavior?
In the current case, since we aren't some supermarket tabloid ("Travolta Near Death!" one week, "Travolta's Miracle Recovery!" the next), we reported - and are reporting - only what we can verify to be true.
We rely on firsthand knowledge, officials who are conducting the investigation, eyewitnesses and victims who are willing to talk. We also recognize that officials may not be able to disclose everything they know right off the bat without tipping off the perpetrator or otherwise jeopardizing the investigation.
One caller asked why we hadn't reported, as "everyone in Wallowa knows," that the mother of the infant was a 17-year-old Wallowa girl.
We didn't report that because we couldn't verify it - understandably, since it turned out to be completely wrong. In addition, reporting such gossip could harm the reputation of every 17-year-old Wallowa girl who recently looked a little overweight.
Another caller asked us to stop reporting anything because of the embarrassment it caused the family of the infant's mother.
We respect the family's privacy as much as possible and we never publish a name unless and until the person has been charged with a crime. But in deciding what to publish, we consider our responsibility to the larger community to be paramount.
We won't shy from reporting legitimate news that Wallowa County needs to know. Whether a lawbreaker is your next-door neighbor, a prominent politician or the Chieftain's publisher, you'll read about it in the paper you're holding in your hands and on www.wallowa.com.