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Columns

Editor's Notebook: Telling the story of Truffles the bear

I’ve been in the journalism business for 12 years. But a first came about the other day – a reported bear-napping.

In June, we learned that Truffles the bear – the large, banana costume-wearing, stuffed mascot of Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory at Geneva Commons – was stolen.

Now, journalists consider a number of factors when determining whether to do a story on something in particular: timing, proximity, how many people will be affected, whether anyone or anything famous is involved.

We also look for stories about the odd and offbeat aspects of life.

Upon learning that Truffles – valued at $350 – had been quite brazenly stolen in broad daylight, we considered all of the above and determined the theft of the bear was unusual enough that our readers likely would find it interesting.

So we did a story about the bear being stolen. And the story generated a lot of interest online.

Then, about a month later, we learned an 18-year-old woman had been charged with misdemeanor theft in connection with the Truffles case. (And police confirmed our first story on the matter helped lead to the recovery of the bear.)

So we did a story on that, too (published in print Aug. 3) – a story that, like our initial story, also was posted to social media.

It really took off.

On Facebook, the story reached more than 87,000 people, was shared more than 400 times and elicited more than 200 comments.

That’s a lot of engagement for one of our stories.

After the story was posted online, we received a number of calls, emails and Facebook messages about what we wrote, mostly people asking whether we would take the story down – or at least the teen’s police booking photo.

And the first question I have in response to that is why would we take the story, or any part of it, down?

Newspapers are in the business of publishing stories about the communities they serve, and part of that is reporting on crime, using public records. Our job is to publish stories and let readers decide for themselves what to think of the subject matter – not hide the fact that something happened.

If we were to take this story down, what kind of precedent would we be setting for future crime stories? Sure, some people might view the theft of a stuffed bear as a prank, but others might not see it that way. How do you see it?

Times have changed. Gone are the days when local crime stories would likely just appear in the printed paper. Now, media outlets also have websites and social media accounts. But when a story just appeared in the paper, that’s how people usually found out about something newsworthy.

Maybe what needs to change is how society views information that can be found online.

Should an employer discount hiring someone for a job because that person was charged with a misdemeanor crime – viewable on the internet – five or 10 years ago? Should community members judge someone charged with said crime via online comments, when that person hasn’t even been found guilty yet?

As technology continues to evolve, we all will play a big part in determining how we deal with information being shared in more ways than it ever has been before.

It’s so easy for our mistakes to follow us now. We might – in some cases – have to learn to be more forgiving than we once were.

Kathy Balcazar is weekly group editor for the Kane County Chronicle, Elburn Herald, Sugar Grove Herald and Suburban Life Media, and is a member of the Northern Illinois Newspaper Association Board. Contact her at kbalcazar@shawmedia.com or 630-845-5368. Learn more about NINA at ninaonline.org.

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