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Real Reality

By admin Published: March 20, 2007

I've been a little lax about posting after a weekend that included my wedding anniversary dinner, younger son acting in a production of "Peter Pan," some household activities and a shooting death ...

As many of you may know, my work at the Beacon Journal also includes being part of a rotation of reporters on weekends and some nights. About a week ago, for example, I found myself covering a local school board meeting. And on Saturday, I was the early-morning reporter, where one task involves catching up on police reports from the night before.

And, in the early hours of Saturday, a 19-year-old Akron man was shot and killed. The police at first issued a press release saying an officer had killed the man; more recent reports have police shooting him, but him then committing suicide.

I don't have to say any more to let you know it's a case with considerable controversy, and not the kind that comes with issues of who gets kicked off a reality show. This was, as a co-worker noted, real reality -- with much higher stakes than the TV kind.

That made the story one that screamed immediately "don't mess up." Any mistake would give some readers an excuse to dismiss or decry the story even more than their points of view would demand with a thorough and correct story.

As far as I know, I managed not to; the story I wrote quoted both the police and the man's family, as well as another young man who witnessed the incident. All comments were duly attributed, so readers could decide if the speaker had an agenda. Even though the story has changed, I wrote what was being said at the time.

Of course, it's still a no-win. Some readers complained that our coverage was anti-police. I had no such intention. I made sure to quote the police account of events very high in the story, for one thing, and contacted a police spokesman for reaction to the family's comments.

Also, because of what I do most of the time, one reader questioned my ability to cover the story.

"I am surprised that the Editor would allow a 'movie critic' to publish such an article until all of the facts were heard," the e-mail said. "Maybe Mr. Heldenfels should stick to being a movie critic and not an investigative reporter."

To be sure, I would have been quite happy to be with my family instead of on the job that Saturday. And yes, I have spent most of my career writing about entertainment -- though television more than movies. But this was the hand I was dealt.

I did what I've done with stories, entertainment and otherwise, for the 30-plus years that newspapers have been willing to pay me. I collected information, then collected more information. I talked to my editor to see if we were missing anything. I then wrote a story that aimed to be as clear and direct as possible -- including clear about the areas of the story where different people told different stories.

As for all the facts being heard, this was a breaking story; you get it in the paper with as much information as can be gathered at the time. There was no question that there would be follow-up stories, and more information, and that it would get in the paper, too. There was too much reality here for one story to contain it.

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