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Fair or Foul -- Including a tangential celebrity connection to a crime?

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by e_bowker, Jan 4, 2013.

  1. e_bowker

    e_bowker Member

    This is causing an uproar on social media in my neck of the woods, and I was curious what the SJ Illuminati think.

    A guy pleaded guilty yesterday in federal court to federal hate crimes charges. He, along with a group of seven or eight others, was accused of harassing African-Americans by shooting slingshots and throwing beer bottles at them. This behavior lasted at least a year and involved enough attacks for the Feds to put together several conspiracy cases. Three people from the group pleaded guilty last year for their part in a murder that occurred during one of these attacks, although this guy wasn't involved in the murder.
    He is, however, the ex-boyfriend of "American Idol" finalist Skylar Laine. They dated for about three years and broke up early in 2012. From the timeline laid out by prosecutors, it's pretty obvious they were dating during his crime spree, which coincided with her run on the show. Laine's family said both of them are now in new relationships and denied knowledge of any criminal activities.
    Naturally, this connection was noticed by someone and mentioned in the stories about the guy pleading guilty. And, naturally, the locals are up in arms about what they perceive as a slight to their local sweetheart. All the usual comments about reporters "wanting to sell papers" and "doing it for ratings" are being thrown about. Truthfully, one of the headlines on a TV station's web site mentions Laine and comes across that way.

    So, what does SportsJournalists.com think?
    Is dragging Laine's name into this fair game? Or should it be out of bounds since they've broken up?
    I lean toward the idea that the question about the relationship needs to be asked, but is not the main part of the story. It certainly shouldn't be the headline.

    Here's the newspaper story from the Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, which I think handled it appropriately:

    And the part about Skylar Laine:
  2. LongTimeListener

    LongTimeListener Well-Known Member

    It's an SEO world and getting the American Idol connection in there meant clicks. In this case the criticisms that they were "wanting to sell papers" (metaphorically of course) and "doing it for ratings" (real) are completely on point.

    Scuzzy move to include her.
  3. Lugnuts

    Lugnuts Well-Known Member

    See, I think it's fair to include a mention of her, but it has to be done in a certain way. It would need to be mentioned way down in the article.

    The truth is, they keep those AI contestants fairly well sequestered, and I seriously doubt she'd have had the time to abet hate crimes.

    The way those graphs are written raises the question of her being a Bonnie to his Clyde. Not exactly fair. That they casually dated during the time of the crimes is merely noteworthy. Nothing else.
  4. J-School Blue

    J-School Blue Member

    If she mentioned him on the show, or he popped up in one of those dumb clip packages they do, I think you have to address it. It's out there and readers will inevitably remember, or recall it when they Google the guy. Ideally you want to give it context in the body of the story and not leave it to reader comment fodder.

    No idea what was done with it elsewhere, but it looks like the Ledger handled it about as well as it could be handled. It appears pretty far down in the original story. I don't know how it was played in print, but in the link it's not in the hed or sub-hed, and you have to read to the second page of the story to even get to a mention of "American Idol." This isn't a case of this guy only ending up in the paper because he dated a chick who was on a reality show. The charges are pretty serious, and from the lede it seems like this is part of ongoing coverage on the arrests of the multiple defendents involved in the case. Not sure they needed that much of it, but they got fairly long quotes from her and a chunk of them seemed used to give her the opportunity to distance herself from the guy. I don't think the way she was framed in those graphs was ideal, but somebody was going to bring it up. And unfortunately, if you're discussing your hate-crime-committing ex, it's not going to come off as the most glowing part of your life, however it's written.

    I do agree that her connection to him isn't remotely the newsworthy part of this. If somebody's sticking "American Idol" and "hate crime" in a headline, that definitely to me comes off as trolling for clicks.
  5. JimmyHoward33

    JimmyHoward33 Well-Known Member

    The way its done in the link posted, to me, is perfect. No mention in the headlines, used as a descriptor of the guy on second reference and has quotes from the woman.
  6. BrianM

    BrianM Member

    I'd say that that a suspect in a crime dating a semi-celebrity for three years has a bit more than a "tangential connection" to her.
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