Last week, the Raleigh News & Observer found itself in possession of an hour-plus videotape recorded by a teenager shortly after the killing of his father and before a shooting spree on a high school campus, says the paper’s public editor, Ted Vaden. The 19-year-old, Alvaro Castillo, sent the tape to the newspaper minutes before he went to the school. Managing editor John Drescher didn’t have much trouble deciding whether to publish. “You do have reservations about giving a platform to someone who is seeking attention in the course of committing a crime,” Drescher said. Yet, “It appears that a homicide has been committed. It appears that this guy drives onto public school property and starts shooting, injuring a few people slightly. So by any definition, this is news.”
Drescher says an editor can’t dwell on whether the front-page coverage of the case might inspire copycat behavior. He says: “I don’t think you could have not covered Columbine in hopes that some kid in Orange County, North Carolina, might try to duplicate the crime. In the news business, sometimes you just have to report the news as accurately and fairly as possible. You could think endlessly about the possible consequences, and I think if you did you’d never be able to report the news.” The newspaper decided to post on its Web site (www.newsobserver.com) excerpts from the tape in which Castillo explained his motivations and thinking. The most disturbing visuals, including the father’s body and the youth brandishing a gun, were not posted. Executive Editor Melanie Sill said editors struggled over what, but not whether, to post. They ultimately chose sections of the video that went further than the print story could in giving readers a look into Castillo’s mind.