Innocent until proven guilty?


Often times in the news, victims of a crime remain unnamed. Ethical practices dictate that journalists must help shield victims from the unfavorable limelight of the media and the unforgiving public eye.

But what about alleged perpetrators? Their names are always included in the news, no questions asked — even when their involvement is not yet confirmed.

Whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty?

Having the story of your victimization published in the news will likely be traumatizing, understandably. But less often acknowledged is that having your name plastered on headlines for a crime you didn’t commit will absolutely shatter your world and all of your connections. Your name will be stained forever because of the association now drawn between you and the incident, even after being proven innocent.

Take the story of Jordan Johnson, for example. He was a University of Montana student found not guilty of rape in a 2013 decision. According to the justice system, this young student is innocent. But look when you type “Jordan Johnson” into Google:

Screen Shot 2015-03-20 at 1.00.38 PMThree of the five pictures loaded first by Google are this student on trial.

Largely due to the media coverage he received, these false allegations will follow him for the rest of his life.

So, omit his name? But how do you avoid including his name when journalists are obligated to provide the public with thorough information? Seemingly, you can’t … yet journalists have collectively decided leaving this informational hole is okay when it comes to the victim.

There is no right answer to what should be done here. Journalism ethics, like any other form of ethics, is a wishy-washy mess of conflicting strong feelings and shaken fists.

But there needs to be some consistency. Either respect the lives of both victim and alleged perpetrator by including neither name, or honor journalism’s obligation to thoroughness and include both.