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Disclosing Minor’s Identity Causes Conflict

July 9, 2011 Editorial, Publisher's Notes 6 Comments

We debated this week whether to report the identity of a teenager involved in a traffic accident that seriously injured a passenger. We moved to Oregon from a state where the identities of minors were closely protected. A minor’s name could be reported only if the minor were charged as an adult. Oregon law considers the minor’s name to be public information in many cases. Local law agencies include the names of minors, incident descriptions and what they are charged with, even before determination of guilt or innocence.

As journalists we are in favor of maximum reporting of appropriate information. However, we are troubled by the seemingly casual approach to thrusting children into the public eye while they, their families, and appropriate agencies manage the situation. We personally believe it is bad public policy and that it does not help children or their families heal from traumatic events. We think it is appropriate to shelter children from media and public scrutiny as well as embarrassment in their school and neighborhood wherever possible. Sure, young people sometimes make bad decisions and need to face consequences, but do they need to do so in the public eye? Their family and those hurt by an incident already know who is involved.

What do you think? What is the best approach for our community? What should our policy be? It seemed coy to not report this information when it is publicly available, and yet doing so creates discomfort in the Wavelength office. We want to have a sensible policy, and would appreciate your comments.

  • Glen Mackenroth

    Not reporting the names of juveniles in the same manner as adults are reported has an unanticipated side effects.

    In a broad sense, it serves to tarnish the image of juveniles in general. The public sees only the word ‘juvenile’ in the media and gradually that begins to bring all juveniles under suspicion. By only naming the group, the group begins to represent only those who are involved in ‘issues’ that are reported by the media.

    When a juvenile attracts media attention for something positive, the individual is removed from the grouping ‘juvenile’ and identified as an individual. Over time the designation ‘juvenile’ becomes negative.

    Also, one of the services provided by the media is to allow the citizens to know which individuals are causing the problems in the community. Over time, a name that crops up over and over again alerts the community to deal with the individual with caution. By withholding that information from the citizens in the case of juveniles, the community looses the benefit of knowing which juveniles should be viewed with caution.

    IMMHO, the harm done to society as a whole and to the general membership of the grouping called ‘juveniles’ justifies revealing the names of those who are involved in events that attract media attention.

  • Annette

    If the child is a potential threat to the community then yes, I believe people should be aware. An “accident” does not make the person a threat. And it is not up to us as readers to blame and judge. I think withholding the name is the right thing to do.

  • Mark Camara

    I think that the identities of juveniles should not be disclosed. If they commit crimes that make them a danger to the community, it’s the role of the justice system to take whatever measures are required to keep the public safe by eliminating the threat and also to do everything possible to rehabilitate them so that they can develop into productive, responsible adults. Publishing the names of juveniles can only create burdens and barriers to that rehabilitation, and most troubled children already have more than their share of burdens and barriers already.

    Teenagers brains are not fully developed, and they often make some very bad decisions. I know I did. If they are not given the opportunity to grow and mature into responsible adults, they won’t. It’s a self-fulfilling prophesy, and publishing their names only makes this more likely.

    Mark Camara

  • Kiera Morgan

    As a fellow reporter, I do not announce or publish the names of juveniles when it comes to crime unless it is a situation such as the murder case in Lincoln City. As stated juveniles will make mistakes and learn from them. I also do not make it a policy to announce or publish victims names no matter what thier age. Thank you for responsible reporting.

    • Editor

      We did publish the name in this case because it had already been reported locally online, so it seemed disingenuous to ‘withhold’ the information after it had already been reported elsewhere. However the matter led to our consideration of a formal policy, and we appreciate your input as a colleague. Thanks, Kiera.

  • Daniel

    It’s my opinion that a minor’s name be withheld in the media. It does little to further the efforts of rehabilitation, and quite frankly a minor is the responsibility of their respective guardian. When I was a child, I never really got into any public trouble, but due to other circumstances, I had the eyes, inquisitive stares and scrutiny of my peers and adults around me, in a negative way. Under no circumstances did this attention help me overcome my obstacles and challenges, and at times hindered my progress. I can’t imagine what negative attention in the media does.

    In regard to Glen, I can see where you are coming from when you say that seeing ‘juveniles’ in the media repeatedly generates a negative connotation, but I think that creative reporting and exposure can avoid this generalization from forming. I think that a lot of media outlets just don’t care to avoid it, or encourage it because it “makes news.”

    I would have to agree with Mark – ultimately it is the responsibility of the Justice System and of the minor’s guardians to address the issue from small to large.

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