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Paper has policies on reporting crimes

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We get a lot of questions from our readers about why some things get in the newspaper and others do not, especially when people get in trouble with the police.

We have very specific written policies about what we print and what we don't. Many readers mistake our policies for actual laws regarding freedom of information or privacy, which is not the case. We set these policies to maintain certain standards for what is newsworthy.

For instance, The Post-Star routinely only prints felony-level arrests. But we will print misdemeanor arrests if:

- They relate to a personal injury auto accident;

- They are included in a list of felony charges;

- There are unusual or interesting circumstances.

That last one allows us an open door to publish any misdemeanor we decide is especially newsworthy. Misdemeanor arrests can rise to the level of felony interest if a person is a public figure, the incident occurred in public, or is something so unusual or interesting that we believe it to be newsworthy to our readers.

Once in a great while, we have people call asking to have their DWI arrest kept out of the newspaper. We tell them we can't do it. However, our policy is that we only report DWI arrests when there is an auto accident, if it is a felony DWI arrest, or a public person is involved. If the charges don't fit one of those categories, they don't have to worry about seeing their name in the newspaper.

Unfortunately, some see this as an inconsistency in our coverage, or that we allow some people off the hook. That is not the case.

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We also have a written policy when it comes to underage arrests. We've always tried to be sensitive when children get in trouble. Traditionally, 16 and 18 have been used as benchmarks for when young people begin to take on responsibilities such as driving a car and working at a job. Here is what are policies are now:

- We don't use the name of the child under age 16 charged with any offense - even if it is a felony - but we include the age, sex and town of residence. One exception: We will publish the name of any minor who is being prosecuted as an adult.

- We don't use the name of the child age 16, 17 and 18 if they are only charged with misdemeanors or violations, but we include their age, sex and town of residence.

- We do use the name of minors age 16, 17 and 18 if they are charged with felonies.

- We do use the name of anyone 19 or older charged with any offense if the crime is deemed newsworthy because of unusual or interesting circumstances.

We've also left it up to the discretion of the editor to print the name of a minor if major crimes or unusual circumstances are involved.

With the recent debate over underage drinking in our communities, we debated recently whether it might do some good to start listing the names of teens arrested for underage drinking. We currently do not print those names unless there is a felony charge.

One of our editors suggested that we should print the name of all teens arrested, that the embarrassment of arrest might be an appropriate deterrent for a young person, that it might even bring a weightier meaning to some parents who don't seem to take the issue that seriously.

It is something we will probably be looking at in the future.

Managing Editor Ken Tingley may be reached via e-mail at tingley@poststar.com

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