Greensboro editor: Think before naming crime victims

Greensboro News & Record editor Jeff Gauger tells his staff that “if we’ve deemed a crime story worth of only three paragraphs, then by definition the facts don’t merit identifying the victims.”

What’s your news organization’s policy on naming crime victims?

From: Jeff Gauger
Sent: Tuesday, July 03, 2012 9:07 AM
To:
Subject: Crime Victims

Effective immediately, do not identify crime victims unless there is a compelling reason to do so.

There often is a compelling reason, as in a homicide or highly visible or gruesome crime.

More often, there is not, especially in three- and four-paragraph crime briefs that we dash off by rewriting press releases. If we’ve deemed a crime story worthy of only three paragraphs, then by definition the facts don’t merit identifying the victims.

In place of a name, use gender, age and town of residence, as in a 20-year-old Greensboro woman or a 48-year-old High Point man.

To emphasize: this policy does not ban the use of crime victims’ names. It requires us to pause and think before naming victims.

Please share with any others who need to know.

Jeff

Jeff Gauger
Editor
News & Record | News-Record.com
Greensboro, N.C.

UPDATE: I asked Gauger if there was a specific incident that prompted this policy change. His reply:

Yes. A seven-paragraph story about motel robberies that was published online Monday. The story named four victims, but gave no further information about any of them, including their relationships to each other. We got their names from police and made no attempt to contact them prior to publication.

In a longer, more fully reported story there may have been reason to identify them. In our short story, there was not.

Our reflexive “publish now” impulse sometimes needs a pause button – even a short pause button. We should have paused in this case.

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