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Ethical question

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by JayFarrar, Aug 17, 2006.


What would you do?

  1. Give up the notes

    4 vote(s)
  2. Don't give them up

    5 vote(s)
  1. JayFarrar

    JayFarrar Well-Known Member

    In some of the coverage of the JonBenet case, this line struck me and I was wondering what other people thought.
    "Was the principle of finding a killer more important than the privacy of a journalist’s notes and communications?"

    By the way, the writer didn't say what he would do.

    So let's say you are put in a similar situation. In the process of an interview, the subject admits guilt to a murder.
    Would you tell the cops or not tell the cops?
    If it went to court, would you give up your notes or not give up your notes?
    If faced with the contempt of court charges, would you go to jail to protect someone who admitted to a murder?
  2. Ace

    Ace Well-Known Member

    If you are interviewing someone who admits to the murder, why don't you write a story and let the cops take it from there?
  3. JayFarrar

    JayFarrar Well-Known Member

    So would you tell the cops what happened before you wrote the story?
    And after it is published and the cops want everything -- notes, recordings -- do you give them to the cops and prosecutors.
  4. Trust NoOne

    Trust NoOne Member

    If the guys says everything on the record, why not? It's not like you're protecting a source.

    Make copies for your files and hand it all over. Otherwise, its obstruction of justice.
  5. franticscribe

    franticscribe Well-Known Member

    You give them nothing. You're not an agent of law enforcement and if you start turning that kind of stuff over then it hampers your ability to do those kinds of stories in the future. They can buy the paper and read what's in there. If the guy confesses to murder, I'd hope you included enough detail in your story that the noose he's trying to hang himself with fits nicely.

    They'll want them and they'll try to get them. It's for this reason that many publications have a notes destroying policy -- so that it prevents this kind of fight. They can't get notes that no longer exist.

    As for the talking to the cops before hand, here are my thoughts:
    If you're a beat reporter that has a good relationship with the cops, you might give them a warning of what's going to be in the paper. You may even need to get some reaction from them. But you'd damn well better time it well enough that they can't start seeking your notes before you publish. You sure as hell don't hand over anything or give them the details of the confession before publication. That's just my $.02 as a former cops reporter.
  6. Couldn't agree more. It's why I was shaky on those MSNBC pedo-stings once they hooked up with the cops.
  7. Overrated

    Overrated Guest

    buckweave and frantic are dead nuts. That's why I destroy all my notes when I'm done. Well, that and it's just a bunch of clutter that takes up room.
  8. Ace

    Ace Well-Known Member

    In your case, you may want to consider destroying your notes before you start writing.
  9. Overrated

    Overrated Guest

    I don't get it. Why?
  10. Ace

    Ace Well-Known Member

    Because you are overrated. Just funnin' ya.
  11. Overrated

    Overrated Guest

    Touche. :D
  12. When I was first starting out, we had the chain's lawyer come by for a refresher on legal issues and I asked him about saving my notes.

    He said, bluntly, to destroy them when I was done with the story. Before I could even ask why, he said: "You can't subpoena what doesn't exist."
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