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Don't blame the messenger

June 18, 2004

Journalists occupy a unique position in the community they serve. From reporting on activity at city hall to producing stories of general interest to any number of residents, journalists serve as the eyes and ears of the community, helping to inform readers of the events taking place around them and shed light on problems and issues in hope that an equitable solution may be reached.

Take, for instance, the sudden rise in mail thefts that occurred earlier this year. In addition to reports on where the thefts occurred, how mail was taken and who was suspected of taking it, Valley Sun reporters also queried law enforcement officials on actions residents could take to prevent being victimized.

Almost all of the mail theft suspects came from out of the area, which the head of the Crescenta Valley Sheriff's Station's Detective Bureau has said is true of most crimes committed in La Cañada Flintridge and the surrounding area.

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But when a suspect or defendant calls La Cañada home, as is the case in several recent reports published in the Valley Sun, we, as journalists, face the unenviable task of informing the public of their arrests in the same objective fashion we would use if he or she did not reside within city limits.

However, all too often do we field complaints that printing reports on locals tangled in the criminal system is detrimental to the suspect's family. While we empathize with the relatives and understand they face trying times, we must also continue in our duty of informing the public in the fairest and most accurate way available.

Though it may seem insensitive to print such reports despite the social, financial and moral ramifications such matters can have when brought to the consciousness of the greater public, we believe strongly in the public's right to know and stand behind the idea that an informed public is an empowered public.

With no disrespect intended to any family-future, past or present-that finds a relative in such a situation, any damage done to the family name or reputation occurs at the time of the arrest- long before a reporter begins making telephone calls or crafting a report-despite who or how many people may know of the alleged wrongdoing.

And when we at the Valley Sun find ourselves writing a report that has the potential to ruin a family's name, as has been said of some of our stories, don't think we finish any sentence with a smile on our faces.

-Jake Armstrong

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