Then, Thursday morning, DeRienzo published his blog post, explaining why the paper had chosen to expose the hecklers. This caught the attention of outside journalists, some of whom blasted DeRienzo’s decision on Twitter. Kelly McBride, an expert on media ethics at the Poynter Institute, argues the story could be highly damaging to the teens whose tweets were published, especially in a small town like Torrington. And, while she’s sympathetic to the paper’s goal of drawing attention to the cultural problems behind the bullying and alleged rape, she feels the paper’s decision unfairly “places this broader cultural problem on the backs of a select few.”
McBride is also troubled that Glenza didn’t contact people before publishing their tweets. After all, teenagers are known to pull pranks like hacking into each other’s Twitter accounts. “I counsel reporters on the best practices when using social media,” McBride says. “The very first best practice is verify, verify, verify.” She adds, “The graver the circumstances for the individual you’re attributing information to, the greater the obligation to ensure this person really exists, that they really said what you’re quoting them as saying, and that there isn’t some other context that you’re misreading.”
So far, though, no one has come forward to say they were wrongly identified. And, given that the tweeters were attacking a vulnerable 13-year-old victim—who unlike them, hadn’t chosen to make her claims public—some journalists in neighboring communities have applauded the paper’s choice. “While some might choose to criticize The Register Citizen for not blurring out the Twitter handles and the profile pictures in printing the screen shots, let me say ‘Bravo!’ to those in charge for putting it in our face and forcing us to have the argument,” columnist Jeff Jacobs wrote in Friday’s Hartford Courant. “It’s not a pretty thing to reprint tweets by those under 18, but it’s one-100th as ugly as the re-victimization that takes place” when victims are shamed and humiliated on Twitter.
It’s hard to argue with that logic.
Correction: The initial version of this post incorrectly stated that editors “urged Glenza to cross-reference the criminal blotter with varsity football rosters.” In fact, it was the statewide pending criminal docket that Glenza cross-referenced with football rosters. The relevant sentence has been corrected. CJR regrets the error.
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