Local coverage makes a difference.

Author:Parr, Nancy
 
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I STARTED thinking about the fate of local newspapers recently and the trend of large corporations buying up small independent papers. While I may complain about some of the stories my local newspaper writes and may disagree with their editorials and columns, I do value its role and connection to this community.

I value local coverage of the courts, trials and crimes. I reached out to the reporter who covers Chesapeake courts and asked about journalism ethics. I thought I knew the answer and I was right.

Like most newspapers, The Virginian-Pilot has a Code of Ethics and Professionalism. And, of course, it has editors. The code and editors are important because they guide, lead and hold the reporters accountable.

Several statements in The Virginian-Pilot Newsroom Code of Ethics and Professionalism (revised December 2016) highlight the overall essence of it for me.

First, "never ... forget for a moment the power of the printed word to do wrong as well as to right wrong." Second, "[i]t gets easier every day for people to fool others, with fake news or misleading information." Third, "[a]lways corroborate information."

These are guidelines that social media commentators/writers /reporters do not have. These are guidelines that when a large out-of-town newspaper reporter chooses to ignore, no one at that big conglomerate is going to care. Bloggers and reporters who have no connection to my city do not have the same incentive to provide fair, accurate and unbiased coverage of crimes and trials.

They can create hate and discontent with misleading statements, incomplete quotes, misstatement of facts and the one-sided version of events which supports their headline and move on. When this happens, the opportunity for the prosecutor, the police and the defense attorney to present their side or to make corrections disappears.

In Virginia (as in every state) prosecutors are restricted by the Virginia State Bar's Code of Professional Responsibility as to what information may be disclosed to the public and the media regarding investigations and trials. A local newspaper reporter who knows the court system, knows the prosecutor and defense attorney and has covered investigations and trials, appreciates that many times it is not that prosecutors do not want to share information but that the prosecutor cannot.

Large outside newspapers, bloggers, social media commentators and national television reporters do not know the rules to which we must adhere, do not...

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