Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Are we right to make lawman's alleged theft front-page news?

I expect to have some e-mails today from readers angry that we made Chief Deputy David Albrecht's misdemeanor petty theft case our lead story on the front page. The reasoning usually goes like this: "Police put themselves on the line for each of us every day, so The Tribune needs to cut them some slack ... you are sensationalizing a minor crime only because a law officer is involved ... you have a bias against all police and want them to look bad."
I can dismiss the first and last points quickly: We value our police and sheriff's departments and the hard work they do. We have no bias against them.
As to whether it is sensationalizing to make Albrecht's alleged crime front-page news, here is why we think it warranted that treatment:
First, officers take a sworn oath to uphold the laws of the land. Whenever they break a law, that is newsworthy. Second, Albrecht is more than a line officer -- he is one of the top lawmen in the county. So when he allegedly commits a crime, it will be big news.
In the latest twist, his story became even more newsworthy because of information in the Atascadero police report. It showed Albrecht initially denied he had been in the grocery store -- and therefore by extension of the logic, he had not tried to leave the store without paying. According to the report, he later told an Atascadero officer that he had in fact made a mistake. We quoted his attorney making that point as well.
The court system will ultimately render its judgment. We will strive to be as fair, accurate and balanced as we can as we continue our coverage.
Do you have a view about how we played the story today? Let us know.
_ Tad Weber


Anonymous said...

I'm going to suprise you and not ask for special treatment only the same treatment as everyone else. Running the initial story Ok, run this story ok, but you would not give this kind of coverage to any other nonconvicted first offence of a minor nature.

This has nothing to do with his job, his ability to carry a gun, or the Sheriff's Deparment. You are just supplying fresh meat to those of your ilk who at every turn choose to oppose your own public servants.

With the power that the paper wields in our society I would hope that if one of your employees has an unfortuneate occurance in their lives you will report it as aggressively.

Bob, Grover Beach said...

Any time a top cop is accused of a crime, serious or minor it should be public news.

I wish no ill will toward the Chief Deputy. However, Law enforcement officers should be held to a higher standard as expected by the public.

A Chief Deputy is not your average John Doe. Any Law enforcement officer is expected to have the highest standards of Integrity, Character, and Honor. A Chief Deputy is expected to be at the very top of these qualifications. If and when these expectations are violated, it is expected that these Lawmen be held fully accountable to the law in full public view to ensure the trust of the law abiding Public.

I thank the tribune for reporting and continuing to report this news worthy event.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for reporting the news as you see fit.

David said...

Hi. In this relatively small, close-knit community, I think the story is worth front page coverage, though I would have tried to avoid making it the lead story.

When the honesty and judgment of a public safety official is being seriously questioned, it's an important matter with ramifications that will likely have tendrils that stretch much farther and will be more long-lasting than with an average petty crime story—especially when the public safety official in question has enjoyed the privilege of carrying firearms in public and the ability to arrest people.

On a purely human interest angle, there are few things that are more captivating to your average American than a story dealing with hypocrisy. We are a nation of hypocrites, so we love to see hypocrisy of others pointed out in a big way, if only because it helps us to feel our own hypocrisy is not so bad in comparison and that we are getting a handle on improving the situation.

However, I would have avoided making it the TOP story on your front page, especially when there has yet to be any conviction. At this point the story to me feels a little too small, too incomplete, too narrow and caters a little too much to prurient interests of readers to be splashed so wide across the top of the paper. It does feel a little sensationalized.

I would have strived to come up with a bigger, more substantial story for the top of the page, and ran the cop story farther down.

But in the Tribune's defense, a newspaper editor has to work fast and be decisive and do the best he or she can with the material the staff has gathered on any given day. And as far as getting readers to pay attention to your work, any "local cop gone bad" accusations sure do pique reader emotions, especially in our culture where so many top-level authority figures are proving to be morally bankrupt, emotionally disturbed, with the tools and position to potentially hurt innocent people in a big way.

As readers, our biggest challenge is to remain compassionate while at the same time striving to see these types of problems avoided or solved in the most productive, positive ways possible.

David Ciaffardini