"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.