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Athletes and criminal accusations

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by ben.miller, Apr 5, 2011.

  1. ben.miller

    ben.miller New Member

    Hi all,

    I am a graduate student in Mass Communication and a freelance journalist. For one of my classes this semester, I am doing a long-form journalism piece on how the media covers accusations of crimes, specifically rape, against athletes. I am interested in the topic from the viewpoint that a lot of these athletes are later exonerated or have the charges dropped and how the initial viewpoint may negatively sculpt the athlete’s reputation in the public.

    I would like to talk to some reporters and editors about how they have covered such situations in the past, and also to find out how the sports media is doing as a whole on covering difficult issues such as these. My question to the board is if there is anyone who would be willing to contribute their thoughts and experiences to my piece or if anyone might be able to direct to someone else who would be willing.

    Any input would be greatly appreciated.
  2. Mark2010

    Mark2010 Active Member

    As both a reporter and desk editor, I am always VERY cautious with this stuff. There are fewer things that can get one in hot water faster than inaccuracies when it comes to criminal offenses. A few things to remember:

    1) ANYONE can accuse anyone of anything. Doesn't mean that it is true.

    2) Just because someone is arrested by police, does NOT mean they have been charged with a crime. Charging someone with an offense is the responsibility of the district attorney.

    3) Just because someone has been charged, does NOT mean they are guilty. Everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

    Because of the above, always use the word "allegedly" when refering to an action.

    In general, I feel some members of the media, in their rush to break a story, do not use proper precautions when dealing with these types of subjects. Your point about the person's reputation is well taken. Even if a person is exonerated in the legal system, they often face an uphill fight to clear their name because they may be seen as guilty in the eyes of the general public.
  3. Stitch

    Stitch Active Member

    Allegedly doesn't absolve a publication from libel and is one of the biggest weasel-words in the industry.

    Just report the story and go through due-diligence to prevent a finding of malice.
  4. SF_Express

    SF_Express Active Member

    As has been the case since Gutenberg -- and I think it can be a real problem -- we'll put that initial rape charge on our home page or section front and play it up big, and then when the case gets dismissed and the athlete is (legally) exonerated, it's two sentences in the briefs.

    An ongoing issue, and completely unfair, but the prevailing attitude has always been "no news is ... well, no news."
  5. Versatile

    Versatile Active Member

    This is fact just about everywhere, and it's troubling.

    Nearly all papers decline publishing the names of alleged rape victims, but most publish the names of accused rapists. I know a number of prominent journalists who hate this and believe their names should be treated equally, including one woman with years of experience in the news side as a high-level editor who believes alleged rape victims should be named.

    The Duke lacrosse case provides a pretty damn good point for her to base her argument on.
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