Why do we do what we do in this crazy business? Why, to draw from an example discussed in the Between the Lines section on page 2 of this issue, did we print information about a person’s spouse when we interviewed her for a story on women returning to the workplace?
It all springs from the sense of community-building that ought to be part of any newspaper’s mission. But the question raised is a good one: Why do we print this information, and — almost never asked because people usually don’t know what they are missing — why do we not print certain other information? We had some juicy cases the past month in our sister publication, the West Windsor-Plainsboro News:
Psychological Warfare in West Windsor. Who says the municipal government beat is boring. Not recently in West Windsor, where one town council member accused another of inflating academic credentials, leading the alleged inflator to accuse the other of conducting a witch hunt. That drew a rebuttal from the original accuser, accompanied by a three-page description of various psychological disorders, ranging from narcissism to delusion.
The other papers covering the squabble did not refer to the psychological handbook offered up in the debate. The WW-P News did. “Bad journalism,” said the council member who was presumably the object of the psychological profiling. We disagree. If you have been around West Windsor politics for the last 10 or 15 years, as some of our WW-P staff have been, you know that dirty tricks have been an underlying component of politics in the town. The current group professes to be above that. By reporting the fact that the psychological card had been played, the community can judge for itself whether West Windsor politicians are backsliding in this area.
Cops vs. Committeeman in Plainsboro. Normally in Plainsboro if you get a ticket for violating the town’s noise ordinance, you get a summons and you either pay the fine or fight the ticket — like a parking violation. You don’t get your name in the paper.
But in the most recent edition of the paper the name of an alleged noise ordinance violator did appear — and it happened to be a member of Township Committee. What’s more, the news of the incident, including a photocopy of the detailed police report and the summons, were mailed to the news in an envelope with no return address.
We can only guess that the source of the information was someone on the Plainsboro police force. So why did we print it? Because Plainsboro has a history of some antagonism between the rank and file cops and the township administration. This may be only the beginning of this story.
Cops vs. Teenager in West Windsor. A mother called a few weeks ago, wondering why we printed not only the name of her son, but also the name of the college he attended, when reporting his arrest for drunk driving. The answer: Police provide the information and we print it because it helps differentiate the accused offender from someone else with the same name.
If Richard Rein is arrested for DWI in West Windsor or Plainsboro you will see his name in the police blotter, and you will know immediately if it’s the newspaper editor, or the high school guitar and trumpet player. (Actually the kid would get a pass, because he’s still a juvenile. But for now I will worry more about myself than him.)
Teenager vs. the World in West Windsor. You may have heard about 14-year-old Ying Ying Yu of West Windsor, the youngest person ever to have her essay broadcast on NPR’s “This I Believe” show.
“I am a good child, obedient,” her essay began. “I grew up in China, a country where education is the center of every child’s life and a grade less than 85 percent is considered a failure. Grades mean more to us than a mother’s smile, more than the murmur of a wish lingering on birthday candles. I had homework during lunch, math and language classes two times a day. There were punishments for not paying attention. I was beaten with a ruler. I learned to do anything to get a good grade.
“I believe in duty, but that belief comes with sacrifice. The achievements I make come with a cost.”
We did not rush this provocative essay into print. In this case we wanted some context — the last time we did a story on the pressures faced by high achieving children of Asian immigrants we spent over 3,000 words on this complex subject. This time we could not get a single word from the girl or her parents, who were said to be unavailable for interviews.
In this community sometimes it’s better even for editors to wait for the right moment to speak.