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.