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COLUMN: Do I have a responsibility to protect our readers?

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KEVIN KOELLING
Managing Editor

I’d like to address a complaint I hear about my writing from time to time.

The latest discontent came in reaction to a story I wrote about the Cannelton Common Council discussing the fact that some people were simulating sexual activity in the city’s Gazebo Park.

As I reported Oct. 31, Councilwoman Kim Reed said she had received some complaints from several parents and grandparents about some people’s activities in the park at midday. The park is across the street from the William Bennett Early Learning Center, meaning very young children were being exposed to the activity.

Editor Vince Luecke was attending a company-wide meeting of editors in Shelbyville, Ky., so I alone was responsible for writing it, running it in that edition and placing it at the top of the front page.

The subsequent complaints focused on that placement. While I stand by my decision to report the story as and where I did, I’d like to offer some explanation about that decision. In doing so, I’d like to dispel an accusation I hear now and then – that I want to make Cannelton look bad.

I am a reporter and it is my duty to report on the activities of the Cannelton Common Council. I will confess that I have some biases. I like almost all of the people I have met in Cannelton, and I enjoy the fact that my job allows me to continually meet more. I am biased in that I want to see the people and their city prosper. With that said, it is my duty to report factually on the council’s activities, and I do my best to set those biases aside and write impartially.

I’d like to point out that I did not rush to publish the story about people simulating sex in public. It was one of several important issues the council discussed at their Oct. 14 meeting. Because I felt their discussion about the former Heck Hardware building was of greater public concern, and due to other reporting I did, I didn’t publish the simulated-sex story until two weeks after the meeting. But when I did publish it, I felt it merited placement above the other stories on the front page that day.

I also reported on other discussions, including one about people shooting others with BB guns in the same area, before the lurid-behavior issue.

I challenge anyone who feels I harbor ill will toward Cannelton to look at the things I report. The easiest way to do that is to go to our website, www.perrycountynews.com, and do a search on the words Cannelton and Koelling. You will see the majority of headlines are either neutral or positive, and only a relative few are negative. That’s not because I attempt to downplay the negative, but because the majority of what goes on in Cannelton is positive. Because of my bias, when I get to report that students there did well on ISTEP tests or have achievements in other areas, I take pleasure in writing about them.

The fact the council had to discuss the simulated-sex issue is unfortunate. The fact that they did, however, is good news. It means they listen to their constituents and share their concerns.

I understand that the negative stories stand out in people’s minds more than the positive. Human nature being what it is, I know “Cannelton joins observance of child-hood-cancer month” likely faded from many memories much more quickly than the simulated-sex headline.

Do I want people to read my stories? Of course. Do I intentionally write headlines intended to draw people into my stories by summing them up as briefly as possible?

Yes, that’s Journalism 101.

Are there other ways I could have written the headline so as not to offend anyone’s sensitivities? Yes. Is it my duty to protect people’s feelings from the dirtiness that is sometimes part of life? I don’t think so.

If a story about a murder in Cannelton found its way into that top position on the Oct. 31 front page, I don’t believe I would have heard objections. For some reason, we are squeamish about sex and feel a need to hide stories about even simulated-but-public sexual activities.

Murder reflects much more negatively on a community, but I think most people agree if it occurs, it should be reported prominently.

We published a letter Nov. 11  from a Cannelton resident who expressed a very strong opinion about the placement of my story about the council’s discussion. I disagree with her, but I’m glad she wrote. I wish more people would express their feelings about all of the important issues in Cannelton and our other communities.

I also appreciate a comment offered in response to that letter by someone using the screen name 86intruder, who suggested on our website, “Don’t blame the Perry County News for reporting the news.”