Crossing the ethics line?

Mountain Xpress crossed the line between “journalism” and “media” in printing the arrest record of Reid Thompson in “The Long Goodbye” [“Inappropriate Behavior?” sidebar, Jan. 9]. … Nothing except what Reid has been charged with in regards to the city of Asheville, Greenlife and John Swann personally is remotely relevant to this story. And the story is that Greenlife is repeatedly violating rules that [seem to have been] promised to be set aside specifically for their case by members of the good ol’ boy network … in Asheville, past and present, and a private citizen is putting up his own time, money and effort to try to bring them to task because the city of Asheville will not enforce their own rules—because doing so would be admitting that a good ol’ boy network actually existed/exists when it came to development of this project. But that’s not what everyone will be talking about after reading your article. No, they’ll be talking about Reid getting arrested for marijuana possession sometime between 1994 and 2001, as if that somehow justifies or explains everything that’s transpired up to this point.

But I digress. Back to the difference between journalism and media: Printing all the elements of Reid’s arrest record is completely against every ethic of responsible journalism. [The] record is simply not newsworthy. Journalism 101: Is it newsworthy—not is it going to get people to put their hands on their mouths and gasp. It does not make his case against the city or Greenlife less credible. It certainly doesn’t mean he’s entitled to any less rights to redress under the law. And printing it for all to see opens up a Pandora’s box of other negative results. For example, it’s because of things like the risk of getting your own entire arrest record printed in the paper with your picture and name, or having to be “put on trial” yourself on the 6 o’clock news for witnessing events just to prove your own credibility, that people think twice about reporting crimes. And if you think that’s an overstatement, you are wrong. It happens every day.

So, Mountain Xpress news department, the choice was yours, and you chose to be media and not journalists. I fully expect you from now on to print every arrest record of every victim or subject of every story you “report” on, or else you are not a fair and unbiased source of information. It’s your responsibility to treat everyone the same way within the confines or your journalistic policy, right?

The Hard Copy of Asheville, guys. That’s what you just became at your own hand. Purveyors of the story that just wasn’t sexy enough the umpteenth time without including a backhanded smack at the guy who’s trying to make things right. In trying to undermine Reid’s credibility, you sacrificed your own.

— T. Mansell

Senior Editor Peter Gregutt responds: The intent was not to undermine Mr. Thompson’s credibility but to give readers the full story and then let them draw their own conclusions, as Ms. Mansell has done. Judging by the lively discussion on the Xpress Web site, however, other readers are interpreting this information differently. That includes Thompson himself, who wrote: “I believe the reason for printing the arrest record was to show that over the past three plus years I have been harassed by Greenlife owner [sic] and the city of Asheville for pointing out the obvious violations. … Thank you mountain express!”

Journalism necessarily involves a great many judgment calls. In my judgment, it would have been irresponsible not to include this information in the story; readers are free to disagree.

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