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JONESIE: Just because you can say it, doesn't mean you should

April 11, 2014 - 8:20 AM

I must be getting old because I think I’m feeling nostalgic for old rules in the news publishing business.

Doesn’t sound like me. Old newspaper rules that make no sense today must fade out, change or die. 

Publish a submitted news release? For some, sure, why not? Space isn’t a problem and re-writing press releases is just licking someone else’s lollipop.

If it’s required in the story, why not just spell out an F-bomb instead of st**id things like this? No one is fooled.

But some changes I’m not so comfy with. And no, I’m not even talking about daily local publishing crimes ranging from blatant plunder of copyrighted material across the Internet to factual plagiarism for profit.

There’s plenty of mystery meat in the sausage-factory of news gathering.

Publishing used to mean power and with that came responsibility. Just because you can say it and publish it, doesn’t mean you should.

Perhaps now everyone should consider those responsibilities and the impact of their words, since everyone has a one-button information disseminator.

I can’t say all the social media add-ons had any impact on Matthew Foerster’s first-degree murder trial. It was pretty clear.

But the likelihood some guy is wrongfully convicted or walks free of a crime because of premature publication grows all the time.

Back in the olden days (Pre-Facebook), the courts could keep a tight rein on dissemination of sensitive trial information. They took the notion of a fair trial pretty seriously and, of course, still do.

The theory is that pre-trial media coverage can obstruct a jury, filling their heads with information they’re unlikely to scrub out, threatening their ability to remain impartial and decide a man’s fate on trial evidence alone. I doubt that’s much of a threat, but it’s the theory.

Worst of all is the very real notion of ‘trial by newspaper (or insert your new word here).’ That court was in session in Kamloops last year when a victim’s family made baseless allegations about the crime and the accused that were repeated my mainstream media and turned out to be, of course, false.

It’s rage porn. And we should know better.

It rained over every step of the Matthew Foerster trial on Facebook, Twitter, comments and bulletin boards over the last three weeks and soaked through much news coverage as well.

Allegations of additional crimes and untested, additional information was repeated by anonymous postings when it mattered most. Calls for Foerster’s head and other things—verboten by old standards—appeared everywhere before the jury rose to pronounce guilt.

Everything has changed. Again. Social media smashed old norms and I don't know what courts can do about it. I don’t see fines or contempt hearings coming for anyone (everyone) who violates a publication ban or breaks convention. Except, maybe, for accredited journalists, but that's another story.

Maybe I make too much of this. Readers consider the source, right? Social media comments from writers with spelling and logic impairments? Who pays any attention?

But if a juror sees the pressure of a lynch mob made of friends and family in his Facebook Newsfeed every morning, tell me: Does that make it easier or harder for him to be impartial?

— Marshall Jones is the editor of Infotel News.

News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2014
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