Records important part of newspaper

Published 3:45 am Wednesday, November 13, 2002

By By BILL CRIST – Publisher
Newspapers can play many roles in the communities they serve. Promoting commerce and local businesses is one of them. Helping readers find jobs, goods and services is another job we do. We publish honor rolls and other school news, run game stories after local sporting events and attempt to document events around town through photos and stories.
At times we try to serve as a force for change, often working with community leaders to improve a particular area of town. Other times we take on the role of public advocate and we take those same leaders to task for decisions they make. Week in and week out, though, we try to paint an accurate picture of the events that take place in our city. Some are positive stories, while others certainly are not.
Over the past couple of years, The Standard has received statewide recognition for our editorial product. That includes stories, photos, editorials and opinion columns. As a newspaper, we are continually striving to improve in those areas. We make that effort for our readers, and for our community.
There are certain basic elements that good community journalists include in their publications, and frankly, we've gotten a little lazy in meeting those standards. Several weeks ago we endorsed candidates in three important state races. Many readers, and the politicians, were surprised that we would take a stand like that. More than that, though, many readers disagreed with our choices, calling and sending letters expressing their own views. Anyone that has ever taken a public stance on an issue has likely encountered a similar type of feedback, it comes with the territory.
In Wednesday's edition, you will find the second step in our attempt to return to basic journalism standards. Beginning this week and continuing in each edition from here out, we will be running public courthouse records. Included in that will be local law enforcement agency's incident and arrest reports, land transactions, marriages, divorces and the court docket. Some of the reports will be running on Wednesdays, others on Sundays, on page 2 of each week's paper.
It's pretty safe to say that when it comes to reports such as these, some of us would prefer to keep our names out of the paper. We don't mind having our picture taken with a prize catch to run on the sports page, but these reports can be another matter. Some material is sensitive, can be embarrassing and must be treated consistently, fairly and be all-inclusive. That is why we've taken several months putting together our plan to collect this information, re-designed the page it will be running on and taken steps to insure that it is complete and accurate.
Like almost every other event we cover, these records are open to the public. However, not everyone is able to attend city council or school board meetings, or go by the jail to look at incident reports. We can't all travel with the high school football teams for road games. Readers rely on us, the newspaper, to relay what happened. We chronicle what occurred so that those who were not at an event in person, can have an understanding of what happened and how it will impact them. We have the same obligation when it comes to printing public records. They are part of this community's history, will impact its future and based on those two criteria, our job is to publish them.
I expect that reactions will be mixed to our publishing this information, and that's okay. Not all the decisions we make are popular ones, and that's not our role in this community. Our job is to publish the best, most comprehensive newspaper we can for this community. Including public records is the next step toward reaching that goal.
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