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Behind the scenes of media wheeling, dealing

Readers need to know what their newspaper is up to.

Our reporters and editors should have no secrets about how we conspire, collaborate and cooperate in the delivery of news and opinion.

That process sometimes involves more than just the staff members who prepare and package our print and digital products.

“Outsiders” – newsmakers from the public and private sectors – on occasion will seek to inform or influence us.

Sometimes both.

We invite their input.

SOME WEEKS AGO, a few reporters and this editor met with Lee County State’s Attorney Anna Sacco-Miller at her invitation.

A couple of radio reporters and public defenders also sat in.

The only agenda was to discuss informal ground rules about what information the recently installed state’s attorney would, and would not, provide to the newspaper about pending investigations and cases.

We all understood that the newspaper and the state’s attorney would not always agree on what the public should know.

Such is the nature of the free press-fair trial conflict within our democracy.

She wants to ensure an appeal-proof conviction of criminal defendants.

We want citizens to know as much about crime and criminals as possible so that they might make well-informed decisions about their personal safety.

Although she told us she would refuse to give us certain information, we assured her that would not stop us from seeking the information from other sources if we thought it was important for the public to know.

We don’t always agree, but we both respect the job the other has to do.

AT THE RISK OF getting too deep about this matter ... a fundamental difference separates the media and law enforcement.

Police, prosecutors and the courts should be interested in the cause of justice.

The media should be interested in the truth.

Certain rules of criminal procedure must be followed to protect our constitutional rights.

For example, the prosecutor cannot use evidence that is obtained from an illegal search or a confession that is beaten out of a suspect. Such limitations, while necessary, can compromise the truth.

But even though that kind of information cannot be used at trial, it might be important for the public to know the facts about what police found or what a suspect said.

So, law enforcement pursues justice within the rules that protect Americans’ civil liberties.

And the news media pursue the truth, without regard to whether it’s legally admissible, to ensure the public’s right to know about government operations.

That’s how it should be.

SOME NEWSPAPER people – this editor, his publisher and a reporter – sat down in a meeting last week at the invitation of a mayor and a hospital executive.

You might have seen the article in last weekend’s edition about the legal issue involved with the appointment of hospital board members.

We won’t bore you with the exciting technicalities of amending a 35-year-old court order, but Dixon Mayor Jim Burke and KSB President Dave Schreiner wanted to put the issue in context so we would understand how unexciting it was.

As this editor told them, their pre-emptive explanation ruined a perfectly good story.

City, hospital go to court
over board appointments

That big headline could have screamed from the top of Page 1.

While it would have been accurate, it would not have been truthful.

The size and placement of such a headline would have implied conflict – and conflict makes the news.

But then the facts would get in the way.

BAD NEWS CAN happen when matters – especially government-related legal matters – are conducted secretly.

Somebody hears something is going on between the city and the hospital, with lawyers and courts involved.

Nobody is saying anything about it, so we all have to wonder what they’re trying to hide.

In such an atmosphere of secrecy, even innocent intentions can be assigned malicious motives.

But Mssrs. Burke and Schreiner defused any potential news bomb by sitting down in advance with the community’s primary local news source.

And all we got was a story on Page 5 – Hospital, city agree to board appointmentchanges – about consensual revisions to a court order involving hospital board appointments.

Sorry if we disappointed anyone.

WELL, A PAGE 5 story isn’t all we got.

Schreiner also gave each of us a copy of “Relentless, Envious Death,” a book of biographies of Katherine Shaw Bethea and Solomon Hicks Bethea, “the story of KSB Hospital’s founding benefactors.”

The book was signed by its author, A.K. Thompson. The book’s title came from the headline on the obituary that appeared in the Telegraph for Katherine Shaw Bethea in 1893.

So, yeah, we scored some swag from that sit-down.

And in the interest of full disclosure, Sacco-Miller also plied us with worldly goods – obviously as an inducement for preferential treatment.

Who would not look favorably on someone who invites you to a meeting at noon and serves warm pizza with cheap soda? (Really, does anyone drink Royal Crown Cola anymore?)

All joking aside, we appreciated the invitations and the discussions about matters of local interest.

Now everyone knows about the most recent local media conspiracies.

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