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You be the Editor: Would you run this story?

A prominent and

popular storeowner declares bankruptcy. The storeowner receives an outpouring of charitable contributions from a community that believes she is a victim of circumstance. Your reporter discovers, however, that the storeowner has started the Gambling Anonymous program right after declaring bankruptcy.

If you were the editor, would you tell readers about this?

It's an issue I've ran into before in another community where I was the editor of a weekly newspaper. And with a Gambler's Anonymous program and drug rehab center in town, it's an issue that could yet arise here in Crescent City.

But first, the posed dilemma about the storeowner. It offered three possible solutions for readers to choose:

A) Run a story informing the public that the storeowner is participating in the Gambling Anonymous program.

B) Decide not to run any stories about community efforts to help the storeowner because you don't want the public to be duped.

C) Only run stories about community efforts to help the storeowner but nothing about attending gambling classes.

Reader responds

Just one reader responded with with a solution, and it was a unique answer. Carol Layton, of Crescent City, wrote: "My answer would be ‘D' – none of the above!

"I would not choose A for the following reasons: First of all, Gambler's Anonymous does not hold classes. It is a support group and recovery program for those who are plagued by compulsive gambling. To publish the story of the person entering GA would jeopardize the effectiveness of that program in helping both her and others who might need help. It was a breach of trust of some sort that gave your reporter that information in the first place because all of the so-called ‘12- Step' recovery programs are based on protection from public notoriety. Secondly, if the woman is fully participating in the GA program, part of that program involves making restitution to persons who have been harmed. If the bankruptcy was caused by the gambling, she will have a opportunity to make things right with the community, providing that her work in GA is not compromised by the public breaking of a confidence. Third, there is just a chance that the entry into GA and the bankruptcy were coincidental. While gambling may have contributed to the bankruptcy, impending bankruptcy may have contributed to the gambling! It is also conceivable that they are independent events and to connect the two with no concrete evidence is unfair.

"I would not choose B because it sounds like the assistance was generated without publicity, and it will continue or stop as the public is moved to do.

"C might be OK, but I would feel better about the paper remaining silent until more facts are revealed."

None of the above

Thanks to Carol for her detailed response. She also virtually wrote my column for me!

I would choose "C." Carol gave the exact reason why participation in Gambler's Anonymous – or Alcoholics Anonymous or any other rehabilitation program – isn't newsworthy in this instance. There's only circumstantial evidence that the gambling and bankruptcy were connected.

Let's presume there really was a connection. Even then, we ought to go with "C" as an answer. By attempting to address her addiction, the storeowner isn't likely to misuse the money being raised to help her.

Further, each of us of have some right to privacy. The more public a figure is – such as an elected official or one charged with a crime – the less privacy they have. I'd tend to give the storeowner the benefit of the doubt. Her bankruptcy, a matter of public record done in a tax-supported court, is public. But her personal addictions are not.

However, personal addictions can become a matter of great public interest when they pose a potential threat to people. The perfect example of this is when one is arrested for a crime and goes through the court system. Alcohol misuse can result in a DUI. Addiction to pornography can lead to a violation of child protection laws. Gambling could result in fraud or theft of money. In such cases, noting the addiction, when it is raised either by a prosecutor, the defense attorney or the judge during sentencing is appropriate and in the public's interest. The person has let this or her addiction reach the point where other people can be (and often are) victimized.

Of course, the crime needs to be significant. A person may be a habitual speeder, but getting a lone moving violation isn't a big deal (at least in the public's and hence the law's eyes). Receiving several speeding tickets that results in a loss of license, jail time or more is another matter.

One last note: In presenting last week's dilemma, I wrongly stated that Gambler's Anonymous offered classes. As Carol and two other readers pointed out, it's a program and not classroom work. You can find out more at: www.gamblersanonymous.org/.

Reach Rob Bignell, The Daily Triplicate's editor, at: This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

 

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