www.whyville.net May 22, 2005 Weekly Issue

Times Writer

Tough to Talk About

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The story wasn't "ALIENS HAVE LANDED!!!" but it was almost as outrageous.

Brandon Bailey, a reporter at the San Jose Mercury News, had just received a shocking call from a teacher. The teacher alleged that as a boy, he had been molested by a very well-respected priest at his church. He said other boys had been abused as well. Bailey wrote an article about it.

That was several years ago. Just last month, the jury at that teacher's trial awarded him around $1.5 million in damages from the Archdiocese of San Francisco. Bailey reported on it that very afternoon.

Earlier that morning, Bailey had spoken to the journalism class at the same high school where the man who made the call is a teacher.

Bailey visited because that class would soon be publishing an article about the teacher's trial in their own paper. He spoke to the students about how to write about tough subjects such as sexual abuse.

This is something people don't like to talk about at all, even among their friends and family. Imagine how hard it would be to write about for millions of readers!

Bailey told the students about the complicated investigative process he went through to report on the abuse in a non-inflammatory, balanced way. This was especially difficult because the (now deceased) priest he was about to accuse had been very popular and well-liked.

First, Bailey had to get more evidence. One man's word isn't sufficient proof for such a shocking claim. Although the U.S. does have freedom of the press, if a reporter knowingly publishes lies about someone that hurt their reputation, it's called slander, and it's a criminal offense. They can be fined and even put in jail.

So Bailey visited the teacher's former classmates, asking if they had experienced anything. He said they could choose to remain anonymous. But he did need some people who were willing to have their names appear in the paper.

Some men weren't ready to open up. After all those years, they still felt shame, fear or something else that stopped them. But others were ready. Eventually, Bailey found five men willing to speak openly and five others who would speak anonymously. This was enough evidence for Bailey to stand behind his claim.

But Bailey's job wasn't done. One of the important aspects of journalism is to be fair and balanced, to get every side of the story. So Bailey visited the remaining family of the priest in question. He told them about the article he was writing and asked if they had any comments. He asked what the priest would have wanted to say in response to the claims.

And then he went to work writing the article. It was a difficult job. He had to remain respectful to both the victims, the accused and the families of all involved.

Was it correct for him to report on this story? After all, he was, as ABbayb290 put it, "totally trashing someone's reputation." The priest's family would probably prefer that article not have been published at all. So was it right?

I say yes. Because after the article was published, many more people realized that they were not alone in their shame and suffering. They found the courage to come forth with their story and realize that it wasn't their fault. And now they're receiving counseling and compensation for the terrible harm they experienced as children.

After Bailey finished telling the class his story, he talked with them about everything from journalistic integrity to tabloids to the right of journalists to keep their sources private. There is so much to think about when it comes to covering the news!

What do you think?

Editor's Note: This is an incredible story. Thank you for your report, JasmineK, and thanks to Mr. Bailey for his work, and thanks to that teacher who spoke up five years ago. What a difficult topic this is!

Hopefully, we don't have issues as serious to deal with here in Whyville, but in what ways does this story affect how we should report the news in the Times? How do you determine what is fair and balanced, and how should I as the Editor make sure everything I publish is accurate and valuable?


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