By Sarah Barchus
While writing an article for the Pioneer Press about a man who sexually abused an 8-year-old relative, reporter Marino Eccher faced several ethical questions.
Eccher said that in sexual abuse stories the biggest priority is taking care not to include information that would make it easy to identify the victim. He said that this is especially important in this story where the victim was a young child. In this case, the criminal complaints contained more specific information than he chose to include in the story, such as the victim's specific relation to the offender, Eccher said.
Another ethical question Eccher said a journalist needs to consider is if the graphic detail listed in the police reports is something her or she wants in the story. He said it is a matter of determining how to properly and accurately describe what happened without going too far. Eccher said that in this criminal complaint there were graphic descriptions and anatomical terms that, while factually important for the police, were inappropriate for the newspaper.
When writing the story, the reporter needs to remember the effect on the family. Eccher said that a reporter needs to consider "how much to make people read about what's probably the worst event of their lives in the newspaper."
Eccher said one way a newspaper can be sensitive to the family is through the placement of the story. For instance, this six-inch story was not placed on the front page, Eccher said.
"This is not the kind of story that needs to be shouted from a mountaintop," Eccher said. "The article told a story about the dark side of humanity; not everyone needs to know the situation."
Even though Eccher said the story was "ugly," he chose to write it because it was "interesting and unusual" that the man turned himself in.
As a reporter, one needs to remain unbiased but in stomach-turning cases this could be difficult. Eccher said that the best way to avoid getting caught up in the emotions is by looking for the facts of what is going on in the world.
Although it is important to keep the story's tone factual, Eccher said that a reporter can still "convey the human element" through word choice.
"A reporter is telling you it's really bad," Eccher said, when he or she uses words like "chilling."