Wednesday, October 2, 2013

This isn't a popularity contest; it's journalism

I want to take a moment to respond to all the criticism regarding Darryl Mount and our coverage of this story.

My job as a journalist is to report the various sides of a story, regardless if I agree with them or not, just like it is the job of law enforcement to investigate a serious accident, even if the person injured was a 21-year-old with a criminal past. 

It’s my job to ask questions and to report back to you on what I’ve learned. Sometimes the facts are indisputable. But many of the things people tell me are their opinions, and it’s your job as readers to sort them out and make up your own minds. 

Up until the most recent article, our coverage of the police pursuit that ended with a young man in a coma was lacking, because it was based solely on what we were told by the police department.

The first time we report anything that is not from the police is the fourth article, when reporter Lucian McCarty speaks with Darryl’s family. This story garners very little information but reveals that the family believes there is more to the story and that they are pushing for an independent investigation.

Here are the stories:

·         Aug. 31 – The first story comes out, based solely on what police have told the media.
·         Sept. 1 – The follow-up story comes out and there is no mention yet of scaffolding, again it is based on the information police have released to the media.
·         Sept. 2 – For the first time police say Mount fell from scaffolding; the police are the only sources we have used.
·         Sept. 3 – Coverage of Justice for Darryl rally in front of City Hall. His family declines to comment on what they believe happened.
·         Sept. 7 – A brief article is released giving the detail of a fundraiser for Mount.
·         Sept. 10 – Police refute police brutality allegations concerning made at a City Council meeting by Guy Pierce about himself, as well as allegations that Mount was abused.
·         Sept. 23 – My story with Mount’s family speaking out on the day of a fund-raiser on his behalf.

As far as I was concerned there was more to the story, a side that the mainstream media hadn’t reported. So when Darryl’s aunt agreed to sit down with me for an hour-long, on-the-record conversation, I paid her the same courtesy that I pay everyone else. No more and no less. I listened and I asked questions, followed up with the attorney and wrote a story.

It was an unpopular story with commenters, but I’ve never been much for popularity contests. The negative comments escalated so quickly about Darryl and his family that we just turned them off.
Anyone can leave a putrid comment in the ease of their anonymity; can say that Darryl got what he deserved, that his family are gold diggers. But remember that a culture is not judged by how well we treat the privileged; it’s judged on how we treat the poor, the impoverished, the outsiders. It’s easy to treat a celebrity or millionaire with respect and equity, but how are you going to treat the underdog?

I understand it’s difficult to sympathize with a guy on parole, but I refuse to accept that a criminal past excuses, justifies or condones abuse of any kind. Our job is to keep digging and to find the truth, beyond the official voices.

A civil society has standards of conduct and when they break down we are all at risk.

The press is one vehicle to monitor, investigate and report abuse or suspicion of abuse. I refuse to partake in packaged journalism or cite the same three groups over and over. I’ll find out for myself and if that makes me an outsider, then I’m probably doing my job right.

"I have this sort of heuristic view that journalism, we possibly offer hope because the world is clearly run by total nincompoops more than ever. … Not that journalism is always wonderful, it's not, but at least we offer some way out, some integrity.” — Seymour Hersh, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter, in The Guardian


Blogger Ben lives on said...

“The worst readers are those who behave like plundering troops: they take away a few things they can use, dirty and confound the remainder, and revile the whole.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche

October 2, 2013 at 10:05 AM 
Blogger Horatio Alger said...

Living silently in the luxurious lap of retirement been trying amid this Mount business, but only because the subject matter is ripe for poignant social commentary. The local media, however, has generally covered it in a straight-forward manner. Even more impressive is that the Saratogian has done a mostly adequate job of meting out facts from the cop talk and rhetoric swirling around this story like a giant cloud of horse dung.

Your story on Sept. 23 did a good job of walking a fine between what is alleged and what can be unequivocally proven as fact. And you also managed to humanize a guy who isn't receiving a great deal of sympathy. After all, there is a young man now dwindling along in a rehabilitation center that often cares for those who have long, if not insurmountable road to recovery.

That said, here are a few issues with the coverage. Thrusting the Mounts into the category of the "poor, the impoverished, the outsiders" is a somewhat presumptuous and does show through in your article. Also, not accepting "that a criminal past excuses, justifies or condones abuse of any kind" is also admitting that said abuse occurred and is being justified. The facts here and even vast majority of opinion voiced only points to one conclusion thus far, which is that this was a tragic and undeserved accident.

Now here's the largest issue with your story: If an attorney is claiming he has access to witnesses and that they're afraid of police reprisal, then why not provide the media access to them? This is a prime example of one where an 'individual who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal' could be argued as acceptable. If Montgomery refuses this request, then you should be telling him there's a breakdown in your trust together and that you'll have little other choice than to accept that he's not being truthful. At the very least, Montgomery could have provided you with a statement or portion of a statement from one of the alleged witnesses. Instead of giving an ambulance chaser what he wanted in print( i.e. "Montgomery said he has taken statements from two individuals who say they witnessed the final stage of the pursuit, when Mount toppled 20 feet from the scaffolding"), you could have followed the sentence with one stating "despite requests from the Saratogian, Montgomery refused to provide access to the individuals or their statements." That small sentence goes a long way in balancing your reporting. And it gives a heaping helping of "STFU" to your critics.

Validating simple facts is also crucial. Here, the City Police have insisted they did nothing wrong, while an attorney is more or less accusing them of nailing Mount with a Taser as he was climb a scaffold. Well guess what? Tasers keep usage data that shows when they were deployed. That data is a public record that can be obtained with a Freedom of Information request to the city. If it's denied, then your article should say "city officials refused to release data records from the Tasers that were deployed prior to Mount's fall." Another critical piece of public information that hasn't been collected by the media has been the radio chatter between the police responding to the 'fight' and the chase with Mount. Cops generally don't go running after someone without radioing back that they're in pursuit. Match the two records and you'll have a very good idea of what happened. And those are facts not up for debate or dispute.

Now probably the city will say some line about there being "an active and ongoing investigation" into the matter as their reason for not releasing these things. Get them on record saying when the investigation will wrap up and whether they'll provide those items afterward. Ask them if its a criminal or internal investigation and whether the district attorney is involved. If he is, ask them if the Saratoga County DA needs to recuse himself, since he does work very closely with the cops.

October 2, 2013 at 11:03 AM 
Blogger Ben lives on said...

I hope you enjoyed your vacation. Look foreword to hearing more from you.

To those newcomers Horatio Alger was the proprietor of the I-Saratoga blog.One of the best blogs ever penned on life Saratoga Springs

October 2, 2013 at 11:17 AM 

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