On Monday evening, the Optimist editors chose to run a story reporting the arrest of a student.
The student was charged with evading arrest or detainment with a vehicle. He was not convicted of anything, only charged under the Texas criminal statute.
The story received an overwhelming amount of feedback from students, much of it questioning the JMC Network’s interest in running such a story.
We ran the story for several reasons.
First, it’s newsworthy. The arrest occurred on campus. It involved a member of the community, and the criminal charges potentially come with years of prison time. At the time the story published online, the events were public knowledge. To back down from reporting this would to sacrifice our credibility as a news source to the student body, faculty members and readers.
It educates readers. The student was charged with a third-degree felony, a serious legal penalty that may result in prison time. This is not a charge to be withheld from our readers because it alleges the student put others’ lives in peril.
It holds our students, faculty and staff accountable. The story included facts pulled straight from the police record from the incident. Nothing reported was speculation or false, according to the Abilene Police Department records. If a student, faculty or staff member is to commit a felony, we will report it. This is not to embarrass or shame anyone. This is to let everyone know that we will not shy in our job as the watchdog of the community.
It follows a precedent. This is not the first arrest or felony to be reported by the Optimist. We will not neglect to cover an arrest or felony simply because one defendant is more liked or represented on campus than another. All arrests and felonies will be covered the same to maintain unbiased reporting within the news organization.
We recognize the charges are only step one in the legal process the student will go through in the upcoming months. The charges may be bumped to a misdemeanor, or dropped all together. If so, we will report that news.
We will not step away from our job when the content becomes controversial solely because we are followers of Christ. We will find a way to incorporate our faith, and the ethical framework that stems from that, into our decisions in the workplace to report or not to report on a situation.
The Optimist is a news organization designed to prepare students to enter a professional atmosphere. In doing so, we must report all news – good or bad.
We are not here to write press releases for the university. We are not here to make things sound good. We are here to report the news.