In general, news organizations need to do a better job following up on the stories we report.
That’s right. We. Small though we are, The Times is not immune to the lure of “the next big thing.” We’re as eager as anyone to get a story out quickly and as accurately as possible, then move on to the next story.
Although news organizations of every size and format are guilty of slowly dropping coverage once the iron cools, we’ll focus on ourselves. This week, we’re publishing a followup on the Aug. 13 arrest of Fulton’s Christopher Johnson, who was charged with sexually assaulting a minor in downtown Fulton’s Playgarden Park. As we typically do when someone is arrested on serious felony charges, we ran a story about Johnson’s arrest in the paper – August 21, page 1A. The story included his name and age and a brief description of the alleged incident that lead to his arrest. We shared a link to the online version of the story to our Facebook page.
This week’s story, which covers the grand jury choosing not to indict Johnson on felony charges, is sadly a rare example of how we should follow up on the stories we publish. We often report when an arrest is made and when a sentence is handed down, but rarely write about what happens to the accused between the two. It’s not an intentional decision, but one that’s driven by the gut appeal of beginnings and endings – the shock of a crime and arrest and the relief of a conviction. Those kinds of stories drive conversation and clicks, and so we – and all news organizations – play to them.
That failing is on us, and we as a news organization – even a small one in a rural county – need to do a better job of keeping track of the people we feature in the pages of our paper and website. We’re quick to share their stories. We need to ensure we’re reporting on what happens to them even when the initial buzz has died away.