Analysis: Naming Suspects

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For this week's news analysis, I am looking at the article "Arrest made in sex assault of woman near St. Kate's campus in Minneapolis" in the Star Tribune. This news report is based off the Minneapolis Police Department's press release entitled "St. Kate's CSCR suspect arrested in St. Paul."

It's interesting to look at the quick turnaround on this news report. The news release was posted on Facebook at 1:01 p.m., and Paul Walsh's Star Tribune article is listed as being updated at 3:47 p.m.

The most notable differences between the news release and the Star Tribune's article is that the Star Tribune did not use any names in the article. It is clearly its newsroom policy to not name suspects until they have been formally charged; the only identifying details about the suspect are that he is male and his age. In fact, the article explicitly states that the man has not been charged; readers can read between the lines and understand that that is the reason that the article does not contain his name.

Other news organizations, however, do not make this same choice. For example, an article entitled "Suspect Arrested in Sexual Assault Near St. Kate's" on the website for KAAL-TV does choose to name the suspect.

The author also chooses not to explicitly name the police officer who interviewed the suspect, whereas this is listed in the news release. Perhaps it is newsroom policy to keep all names out of this type of article - the very first discussion of a suspect - so as to provide readers with the bare-bones details and fill in the rest as more information is learned. Or perhaps the reporter simply did not find it important to discern which specific officer is involved in the case.

I did not actually previously realize that news releases from the police are published publicly for anyone to find (i.e. on the internet). However, while doing this news analysis, I noticed that the Minneapolis Police Department posts these on its Facebook page! This was very surprising to me. I have known for a long time that newsroom policies about "naming names" are always a top consideration for journalists, but such standards seem slightly less vital now that the general public can access these names anyways. I know that matters of public record have always been available to anyone who wants them, but it's a bit different to have to go to City Hall to search through them, as people did before the internet. Now, they show up on people's Facebook news feeds! This is very interesting to me and brings up an important issue for debate.

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This page contains a single entry by mill3877 published on December 3, 2012 1:55 AM.

Suspect arrested in connection with sexual assault near St. Kate's was the previous entry in this blog.

Toddler accidentally shot and killed by brother is the next entry in this blog.

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