A few months ago, a reader reached out to me and asked why we continue to write “Stoney Street” in our paper when the road signs clearly read, “Stony Street.”
Unbeknownst to this reader, it was a policy I decided years ago after careful deliberation and speaking with several people in town. Though it is spelled “Stony” on the signs, I’ve seen it spelled “Stoney” on the town’s website and in legal documents. The tax rolls have it as Stony, but Google Maps has it as Stoney.
For consistency’s sake, I needed to set a policy on how it would appear in our paper.
I could write a whole column about why I made the choice I did, but the long story short is Stoney just felt right to me. It seemed that’s how the word logically should be spelled.
Also, as editor of our sister paper, The Katonah-Lewisboro Times, I’ve come to learn that government-issued signs are not always correct. At the Goldens Bridge Train Station, for example, the MTA has installed signs with an apostrophe (Golden’s Bridge) where one is not needed.
This is just one example of how carefully we at Halston Media consider every word that appears in our five weekly papers. We’ve had hours-long debates about ball field or ballfield, whether town should be capitalized, and so on.
So, of course, much more consideration is given to police blotters, lawsuits and other unsettled matters that have the potential to damage a person’s reputation and alter the course of their life.
As editor of Yorktown News going on five years, I’ve heard calls since Day 1 to publish a regular police blotter in this paper. I made the decision not to for several reasons, but chief among them was that these are merely accusations that only tell one side of the story.
When I worked at the Daily Voice, an online media outlet that used to publish original hyperlocal news stories, but now mostly publishes press releases and updates about Hillary Clinton, we had a pretty black-and-white policy: Name defendants when they are accused of committing a felony; do not publish their names when it is a misdemeanor or violation.
I didn’t question it at the time, but I came to learn that nothing in this job is black-and-white, which is what makes it so difficult. Almost everything we do is subjective and therefore open to scrutiny.
As I became more experienced, my policy regarding police blotter items changed. I would publish misdemeanor arrests if the story was compelling enough, but I would usually refrain from naming the defendant. Often times when someone is arrested and I do not print names, readers demand blood and accuse me of protecting the accused, but my job is to consider that there is another side to the story. What if he or she is innocent? Even if exonerated, this person’s name would still be attached to these charges for years. Because of Google, they wouldn’t be able to escape them (If convicted, of course, have at them).
Frankly, I regret how I handled some of these police blotter items earlier in my career. I didn’t consider enough just how damaging a false accusation could be to someone. Or, even if true, does somebody deserve to have their life derailed by a mistake? Colleges and employers may not be able to ask about your criminal history, but they can certainly Google it.
Several years ago, I posted a story about a runaway teen who was located by police a few days later. Her name and picture had been on our website that entire time, likely coming up early in search results. She reached out to me recently and asked if I could remove the article, and I obliged.
A half-century ago, when police blotter items and names of the accused were published in the paper, people in the community knew of your alleged transgressions but that was it. The potential to ruin lives was not nearly what it is now. The internet doesn’t allow anything to fade from people’s consciousness. Your mistakes are one click away.
Newspaper editors have an awesome responsibility and, speaking as a person who has made mistakes, I don’t believe people should be defined by their lowest points.
There are, of course, exceptions. We still have to report the news, and if a person is accused of defrauding people out of money or causing harm to people, then our readers have a right to know who that person is—whether it’s a misdemeanor or felony charge. But, we as a newspaper then have a responsibility to try and speak to the accused (even though they’re usually advised by their attorney to keep quiet) and follow the case from beginning to end.
Accusations often make the front page, but acquittals are rarely covered. Newspapers need to do a better job in this area and must consider the power they have to influence someone’s life.
Or, in some cases, the power to alter how street names are spelled.
Introducing a new addendum to my columns, in which I complain about the little things in life.
This week, the target of my ire are people who do not understand how stop signs work. I know it’s a difficult concept and there’s a lot of room for interpretation, but when you’re driving and you come upon a large red sign that says “STOP,” you’re supposed to stop your vehicle.
Conversely, why do so many people come to full stops when there are no signs telling them to do so? An example of this would be at the Staples Plaza shopping center on Crompond Road. There is no stop sign for people entering the shopping center, yet drivers continue to slam on their brakes and let others go. You may think you’re being polite, but the intersection was designed that way for a reason and you’re only making traffic worse.