Readers sent many notes in response to my letter last week, explaining why we profiled homicide victims and included fond memories of them. Here is a particularly thoughtful one:
Comment: So often the public seeks to blame the victims of crimes. Perhaps this makes them feel an act of violence could never happen to them or one of their loved ones. But this is both irrational and a failure to see the humanness in each of us.
The victim profiles so carefully crafted by The Oregonian’s reporters remind us that each of us has a history, a family, a path we’ve traveled and challenges along the way. My hope would be readers would be spurred to empathize, to question our commitments to one another, to be more open to finding solutions rather than quick judgments.”
Readers had a few other questions and comments recently. I receive a variation on this one frequently:
Q: Does the brave new age of journalism not include copy editors anymore? I stumble over a number of (glitches) each week (typos, homonyms, clumsy constructions).
A: Our reporters sometimes do publish directly on OregonLive with editors coming in behind to polish or occasionally with no editing at all, depending on the tight deadline (this happens mostly with a late-night game result in Sports). As for what appears in print, a design and copy desk proofs The Oregonian’s pages, but newsrooms have lost significant staff since 2008 and I can tell you copy editors were among the journalists hardest hit by the reductions.
I know typos and errors can be annoying, but I do appreciate readers who alert us by email or on social media.
Q: I have a problem with something in your letter about the mistaken release of vaccine information: “Journalism usually is on the side of the underdog, the voiceless, the less powerful.” I would prefer if journalism would always be on the side of truth, on the side of the facts, regardless of whether this favors the powerful or the underdog.
A: Yes, we are always on the side of truth. But my point is the powerful have many ways to speak for themselves, whether they are in government, politics, business, etc. There is an old journalistic saying about afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted. Journalists are drawn to the stories of those without power who have legitimate concerns but have been unable to get the attention of the powerful.
Comment (also about the vaccine information mistakenly released to us): If you are given a person’s medical information by mistake, then you should shred it. There is no difference between this information and someone who has, for instance, AIDS.
Just because you are a reporter does not give you the right to keep the information you accidentally received. … Also, in the United States of America religious freedom is a right. Signed, future PERS recipient
A: Actually, there is a big difference. The only information we received was the word “medical.” We received no specific health information. And, yes, Americans have freedom of religion and the right to their sincerely held beliefs. But the numbers – 20% of Corrections Department workers were granted religious exemptions — appear to show something else is going on. To be blunt, it appears many workers are gaming a very leaky “mandate.”
Q: I noticed that in the recent project “Under the Gun” the stories describe police shootings as homicides. Can you help me understand why that is? My understanding is a homicide is an intentional, unlawful killing — a synonym of “murder.”
A: Cause of death and manner of death are two broad categories that officials consider when cataloguing fatalities. The cause might be a heart attack or stroke, for instance (an official form like a death certificate would use the medical terms, but for ease of understanding I am using conversational wording).
Manner of death is a determination of whether the death was natural, accidental, a suicide, or a homicide – literally, the killing of one person by another. Some deaths, even in this age of advanced medical science, are categorized as undetermined.
“Murder,” meantime, is a criminal charge. We do not refer to killings as murders until and unless someone has been convicted. We have a long tradition of including police killings of another person as part of our accounting of homicides each year.
Q: Thank you for finally giving in-depth coverage to the ongoing gun violence in Portland. I wonder, however, how you have chosen which victims to put the focus on when choosing front page stories (at least online). I have seen two in a row about middle-aged white men. … Is this more of the same in Portland, focusing on the white folks and ignoring everybody else?
A: One of the stark findings of our “Under the Gun” project was the disproportionate effect of gun deaths on people of color, particularly the Black community. We also published those profiles, such as the stories of Christina Gomez and Shawndell DeShazo II, prominently.
Q: Do the editors truly believe astrology belongs in a paper devoted to truth and critical investigation? Hmmm.
A: Horoscopes have long been part of the “entertainment” options in the newspaper, along with comics, puzzles and the like. I have no problem with giving readers a break from all the doom and gloom.
Editor’s pick: Reporters Eder Campuzano and Ryan Clarke had the most comprehensive coverage of the firing of Newberg’s superintendent by its school board, exclusive to our subscribers.