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updated: 7/26/2012 12:26 PM

Talk with the Editor: We refuse to add to Colorado theater suspect's fame

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  • A makeshift memorial occupies a field across the street from the movie theater in Aurora, Colo., where a tragic shooting rampage took place last week.

    A makeshift memorial occupies a field across the street from the movie theater in Aurora, Colo., where a tragic shooting rampage took place last week.


In the print edition on Wednesday, I wrote a letter to readers explaining why they hadn't seen a photo on our front page of the suspect in the Colorado theater shootings. And why you won't see his name in this article or in most of the articles we publish on the tragedy.

The positive response from readers to that letter has been overwhelming and in more than one case, a bit touching, and so I want to share the point I was making with you.

All sorts of factors go into the creation of random mass murder. We recognize the complexity involved in this tragic phenomenon.

We also believe, however, that one of the factors in these kinds of cases is the allure of celebrity, a delusion that includes fame as one of its ingredients.

Sadly, so much of the mass media and the social media seem to ignore that partial motive. Everywhere you turn, it seems, you see the suspect's photo and you hear his name. Not just occasionally, but repeatedly. Rather than reducing the odds of another tragedy, that kind of saturation coverage may actually increase those odds.

This is our commitment to you and to our community: We will exercise all our care to avoid making a celebrity of the suspect. We will exercise all our care to avoid feeding into the delusions of anyone like him.

That does not lessen our resolve to report the array of information and perspective society needs to understand this crime so as to avert future tragedies. And I think that obligation extends toward providing a nuanced understanding of the assailant and his motives.

But there is no need to be gratuitous, no need to appeal to the gawkers, no need to sensationalize.

We have printed the suspect's name. We will do so again. He is accused of a crime. His name is an essential part of the case. But we will avoid using it any more than we have to. In stories where his name is relevant, we will use it once but not repeatedly. In stories where his name is not essential -- stories of the victims, for example -- we will not use it at all.

We have not used his name in a headline, and we have no intention of doing so. It is possible that there will be a necessary exception at some point, but at the moment, I am having a hard time imagining one.

We published the police mug shot on the first day. We believed you deserved to see what the suspect looked like. But intentionally, we published it small in print inside the newspaper, not on Page 1. Online, we tried to minimize the play it received. Later, we published another photo of him, this time in court with his attorney. We believed the history of the moment called out to be recorded. Online, we initially posted this photo on a display page, but I think that was a mistake and we quickly moved it to a secondary photo position on a story level page. In print, again intentionally, we published the photo small inside the paper, not on Page 1.

Those are the only two times we've published his photo. At the moment, we have no plans to publish it again. If at some point we do, it will be only if we are convinced that there is a greater good in doing so.

There are a few complications with our digital presentation. We get automatic feeds on some national news and photos that are near-impossible for us to edit. So some things may slip through. But we do have direct control of most of we will enforce our philosophy with all our vigor.

We believe our most important job is to contribute to the public good. In this case, we think our restraint does just that.

These are our standards. I hope you agree with them. If you have thoughts or suggestions, please leave a comment or send me an email.

(We encourage you to talk with the editor by clicking on the Comments widget and providing your response to today's column. We want a provocative discussion but one that also abides by general rules of civility ... Please also consider friending John on Facebook by searching John Lampinen Daily Herald and following him on Twitter @DHJohnLampinen.)

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