Editors at The Star Press in Muncie, In., stand behind their decision to publish names, addresses, and Page One photos of local residents who are on the state’s convicted sex offender registry, says Editor & Publisher. The paper calls its approach a public service that has the most reader impact. “It is public information and we felt people had the right to know who is living where,” said Douglas Walker, the paper’s metro editor. “Their own actions resulted in their being placed on the registry.”
Some journalism ethics experts question whether the paper went too far in exposing the sex offenders to potential harm or retaliation. Gary Hill, chair of the Society of Professional Journalists Ethics Committee, compared it to putting criminals in public stocks: “But if you believe that any of these people have a chance for rehabilitation, you are doing considerable harm.” Kelly McBride of the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Fla., agreed. “A lot of newsrooms fall into the ‘if it’s legal, we are going to do it’ category,” she said. “They should be obligated to go beyond what is legal and weigh the value of what they are legally allowed to do against the harm or good that can come of it and make a decision on journalistic grounds.”
McBride worried that readers could overreact to the coverage, either by retaliating against one of the sex offenders or allowing fears of attack to alter their lives. “Our responsibility is to accurately reflect the risk,” she said.
The issue gained attention on Sunday, when the Star Press published several stories about Indiana’s sexual offender registry, which has been in place since 1994, but did not go online until last year. Executive Editor Evan Miller, who joined the paper last year, said he regularly published the names and photos of registered sex offenders at his former paper, The Bellingham (Wash.) Herald.