In nearly every story we write, some information will be left in a reporter’s notebook — never to make it into print.
The job of some professionals — such as a court reporter transcribing testimony or a clerk recording the minutes of a public meeting — is to record every fact and chronicle it for constituents.
But while journalists might be seated in the same courtroom or public meeting, listening to the same material, what happens next is what differentiates reporters from stenographers.
We use our news-gathering training and experience to determine what is most important or most interesting to our readers.
And in no area is the journalist’s role as gatekeeper more apparent than when covering crime stories.
The recent shooting near Ninth Street Park serves as a good example to explain this.
Soon after the June 16 incident, the Columbus Police Department used surveillance and witness testimony to arrest Jimmie DeWayne Hair Jr., 26, in the shooting of a 20-year-old male acquaintance in a neighborhood that had been struggling to rid itself of criminal activity.
Police did not immediately release the name of the victim. Officers often leave information in their notebooks, too, especially during early stages of the investigation when they don’t want to show everything in their hand to suspects or prospective witnesses.
Reporter Mark Hansel, who wrote The Republic’s first published report on the shooting, learned the name of the suspect by talking to neighbors around the crime scene. Having that information allowed us to check back regularly with IU Health Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis, where the victim was taken, and give readers up-to-date status reports on his health.
Since police would not publicly confirm the suspect’s name, we kept that information to ourselves for the time being.
That changed, however, when significant new details on the shooting became public with release of the Columbus Police Department’s probable-cause affidavit. This is a document that the lead police investigator writes, summarizing the department’s case against a suspect — in this case, Hair.
Completion of the affidavit, presented to the county prosecutor to weigh the filing of criminal charges, is the most detailed account of what investigators believed happened in a criminal matter. In Hair’s case, it led to the filing of felony criminal charges of attempted murder, aggravated battery and unlawful possession of a firearm by a serious violent felon.
Information from the affidavit was published at the top of Wednesday’s front page, when the shooting victim was identified in a story by reporter Mark Webber as Ericxon Rosado of Columbus.
Many other individuals involved in the case also were named in that news report.
Justin Perry and Jair Moreno, who were with the victim when he was shot in the neck while in the back of a vehicle parked in front of
1228 Eighth St. The pair
drove Rosado to Columbus Regional Hospital, where he was first treated.
Dai’von Coram, Hair’s companion, who also fled the scene and ran four blocks with Hair until they found refuge in an apartment building. Coram has not been arrested or charged at this point.
Jessie Smith, Hair’s girlfriend, whose .32-caliber semiautomatic handgun was believed to be used in the shooting and who left the Columbus apartment just as police arrived.
But there was one more person who played a key role in the case, the primary witness who was sitting in her sport utility vehicle with two other women and a child when she heard gunfire and told police she saw Hair holding a gun. The witness followed Hair and Coram to the apartment, and the pair were arrested within the next two hours.
Why not name her?
She was not connected to the case in any way except for being in the vicinity when the chain of events began. She came forward to police on her own.
Leaving her name out of our published news stories — at this juncture, anyway — seemed to be the right thing to do. It could be argued that keeping her identity out of the newspaper might help protect her safety, but the defendant’s attorney has that information. Anyone else who has an interest could also learn her name because it is now a matter of public record.
Publish everything we know?
We don’t always do that, in crime and other news reporting, and now you have a better understanding why.