Patch Won't Play West Bloomfield Shooting 911 Call

We didn’t put everything we had into a story from preliminary exam for a grandmother who will go on trial for murder. We want to tell you what we had and why we kept it to ourselves.

"If it bleeds, it leads" — not only an idiom explaining the philosophy of what goes into headline-writing, but also a reason why many journalists get into news writing. The ambition of many friends and colleagues I've had has taken them into war zones and court rooms with some notion that if we as journalists can't get to where the action's happening, someone else will.

On Monday, West Bloomfield Patch reported on a chilling 911 call made by , Sandra Layne, 74, who attorneys say had taken him in after his parents moved out-of-state. 

That’s a story we were obligated to report. That’s a story we were also obligated to report with particularly keen sensitivity.

And, for that reason, we never shared with readers the recording, which included a claim from Hoffman that Layne had shot him again while he was on the phone. 

We considered our short- and long-term business success which could come from such a decision. Patch is certainly aware of certain details of web traffic to this site. We knew that publishing a "follow-up" story with an MP3 recording of the call would bring in traffic, comments, and perhaps, long-term readers.

We also considered the potential usefulness that the recording could provide readers. There appears to be a disagreement between the defense and prosecution in this case on whether or not Layne had been defending herself from a legitimate threat that her grandson allegedly posed. 

What swayed our opinion most was the interest of our core readership — you, the West Bloomfield resident who turns to Patch for news and community information every day. The eyes of the world seem to be on West Bloomfield, but not for the reasons that people work, live, and play here, every day.

Indeed, the recording may help some understand a particular aspect of a complex situation a little better. It may bring us the traffic we would like to brag about to potential advertisers and the like. 

However, based on what we know about our core readership, the potential harm seems greater than the good. In explaining "the why," I hope that the mutual relationship of trust between citizen and journalist will benefit.

Tim Rath is the local editor of West Bloomfield Patch.

Kathy July 04, 2012 at 02:49 PM
Michelle, you are so right! I have walked in those shoes--with my only child. It's a sad abhorrent day when you are afraid of the person you have loved and raised because of addiction. Sometimes it's not 'your child' who comes home to demand money, jewelry, or anything else to buy drugs.
Ronelle Grier July 04, 2012 at 05:11 PM
I appreciate the good judgment shown by Tim and any other Patch editors involved in this decision. I was in that courtroom, covering the story for another local publication, The Jewish News, and listening to that tape was a horrific experience. From a news standpoint, it was sufficient to summarize what the tape contained, as the Patch did. It was not necessary to broadcast it online, and I think it showed journalistic integrity to refrain from doing so, despite the potential for increased readers and/or advertisers. That being said, I am distressed by the other comments, which assume facts not in evidence. As Tim stated, there is a disagreement between the two sides about what actually happened in that house. More facts will be revealed during the trial, but at this point, we don't know whether Grandma was acting in self-defense. We don't know whether Jonathan was an addict or an occasional user (not that I condone either one, but they are very different things). And to call the family low-lives is simply not fair or true. They were caring for their 15-year-old daughter in Arizona, who had a brain tumor. They did not want to let Jonathan go back to Michigan, but he was having trouble adjusting to a new school and Grandma encouraged them to let him stay with her and finish his senior year at his old school. Let's allow the lawyers to try this case - as Sabbota said, there will be no winners no matter what the outcome.
Jayann Washington July 04, 2012 at 06:34 PM
This is truly a sad story. My heart goes out to this grandmother. What a burden she has to carry.
Aj July 04, 2012 at 07:13 PM
Grandmother buys a gun after confrontation with grandson when she called police the first time ---instead of calling her children or social services to take her grandchild out of the house because next tme she will use lethal force even when the child was down and out and already shot pleading for his life continues shooting untikhe is DEAD then says it was murder. This was a premeditated murder - probably angry at (jewish) son in law for the divorce got back at jewish grandson.
Aj July 04, 2012 at 08:05 PM
Buys gun because of grandson! and then uses gun while no one social services or his parents even knew she had had past issues with grandson never indicates she is prepared with gun to deal with him the next time shoots him when he has begged for his life until he is DEAD and you feelmsorry formthis woman she should get the death penalty despicable antisemetic grandmother cold calculated premeditated ACT


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