( 4 Votes )

A recent news story posted on the Fluvanna Review’s Facebook page polarized the community.

When news broke that a former teacher was arrested on misdemeanor charges of contributing to the delinquency of a minor and providing alcohol to a person under 21 years of age, some of the commenters on our Facebook page came to the suspect’s defense. In the process, some criticized the paper for reporting on his arrest.

Our news article, which each of the commenters presumably chose to click on and read, contained little more than the information present in the sheriff’s office press release. Yet we were accused of slander, insensitivity and dragging the accused’s name through the mud.

Because this man was, by those accounts, a popular and caring teacher with a local family, the Fluvanna Review ought to have exercised sensitivity and quashed the story – or so many of the commenters said.

The danger behind this perspective is too immense to be ignored. Transparency
What if the Fluvanna Review showed preference to popular or upstanding members of society by choosing to ignore their arrests? Would Fluvanna residents feel pleased at our discretion?
My guess is they would eventually balk at the obvious double standard the newspaper would show toward suspects occupying privileged places in society and against those less fortunate.

The Fluvanna Review doesn’t show favoritism when it reports on newsworthy arrests. Over the years we have reported on the arrests of those occupying all niches of Fluvanna society, including those at the top. Free American newspapers speak out even when the story concerns government officials and beloved citizens, not just those at the bottom of the social structure.

Class and race
There is often a difference in how commenters respond to an arrest depending on the class, and sometimes race, of the accused.

If the accused is  popular, public opinion rushes to the defense. Commenters praise the suspect and heap criticism on those who entertain even the possibility of his guilt. But if the accused is less privileged, the public has a different opinion.

Race can play a role as well. The most common comment we get on the story of the arrest of a young black man is, “Great job, sheriff’s office. Thanks for keeping us safe.”
The contrast is so glaring that I am unsure any words of mine can possibly illuminate it further.

All suspects had enough evidence against them to warrant their arrests. All suspects are innocent until proven guilty. The Fluvanna Review does not discriminate against people based on class or race.

What constitutes news
Some commenters took issue with the idea that this former teacher’s arrest was news.

Though news probably ought to be defined as important information affecting the daily lives of Fluvanna residents, it is more accurately defined as information people care about.
Sometimes we see a comment along the lines of, “This is news? Find something real to report on.”

Anyone who makes this sort of comment has a) found the story’s headline to be interesting, b) clicked on the story, c) presumably read the story, and d) taken the time to leave a comment.

The story is clearly news to them.

In the case of the accused former teacher, his arrest was newsworthy in that he was a man entrusted with the safety of juveniles yet ended up charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor and providing alcohol to a person under 21 years of age. Fluvanna residents who claim they would prefer not to know of these alleged happenings in the school system have my doubt.

But stated more simply, the story gathered 28,000 Facebook hits (Fluvanna County has 26,000 residents), was shared over 200 times, and generated about 75 comments. This is news.

When we report

A couple of commenters made the assertion that the Fluvanna Review reports on “things like this” yet leaves supposedly more obvious crimes alone. A couple of commenters made more specific allegations of flagrant crimes that they said went unreported.

I will point out that this sort of allegation-hurling is precisely what the community wishes us to avoid. We share that commitment to factual reporting.
I was well aware of the allegations against the former teacher long before a story ever appeared in the Fluvanna Review, having spoken off the record with people who had information about what supposedly transpired.

Yet not a word showed up in the newspaper. We don’t print rumors.

If a law enforcement agency has found enough evidence to prompt it to seek an arrest warrant, and a magistrate has found it fit to grant that warrant, and the law enforcement agency has succeeded in arresting its suspect – then we will report.

Meaningful reporting

The Fluvanna Review strives to keep you informed of meaningful happenings within the county. Some readers may prefer feature stories, but hard news is the heart of what we do.

I believe the county appreciates when we illuminate controversial political situations or report on local crime. If we ran only features, I suspect our readership would decline.
Good news reporting generates emotions in the people who read the story. We are pleased to see that our reporting has done just that.

Civility online

Those emotions were apparent in the number of people who chose to comment on the story and the intensity of their comments.

One of the core missions of a newspaper is to preserve free speech and information. Given that belief, we don’t stifle online comments – even those that criticize us.

We do, however, believe in decency online. The respect you would show a human being face to face is the same respect you should show someone online.
With that in mind, we delete comments containing racially-charged language, obscene language or abbreviations for obscene language. We also delete comments that smear someone else’s reputation or call people names.

An occurrence like this shows us all how tightly we are bound to one another as members of the same community. We will continue to bring you the best reporting on Fluvanna events that exists anywhere. And we thank you for your obvious interest in what we have to say.