When should the media publish photos and full names of crime victims? When two thirteen-year-old girls went missing, the sheriff sent out their names, descriptions and photos in a call to the public to help find them. That seemed like a necessary step in the search, and publishing the information could help. But after they were found, should news media continue to republish their full names and photos?
The story played out in Anoka and Dakota counties. Two thirteen-year-old girls, neighbors, disappeared on Monday evening. As the authorities investigated, they discovered that the two had been communicating online with adult men. They were clearly in jeopardy. On Tuesday morning, they were found safe in Burnsville. The police arrested an adult man.
The Anoka County sheriff’s alert update, released after the girls were found, included the name of the man who was arrested. The update did not include the names or photos of the girls. Maybe that was a clue that they should be protected from publicity?
If so, some of the local media missed it. At least three news outlets splashed the girls’ full names and photos all over the news stories saying they had been found.
What’s the justification for that? The girls are not charged with anything. They are thirteen years old. They may be runaways, and they may be victims, but they are not criminals.
Here’s a quick round-up of who published what on Tuesday afternoon:
- KSTP broadcast and put online the full names and photos of the girls. So did Minnesota Public Radio and Bring Me the News.
- KMSP (Fox 9) published a photo of the arrested man and his name — and also published the girls’ names.
- CBS/WCCO 4 published the arrested man’s photo and name, but not the girls’ names or photos.
- KARE 11 and the Star Tribune published no names. See KARE 11’s after-story for solid reporting without an invasion of privacy. The Strib also had a good follow-up for concerned parents, with tips for monitoring social media.
Publishing their photos and names kills any hope of privacy. Thousands of people know all about their escapade, and also know their faces and sensitive personal details. A couple of clicks can lead to a street address. Publishing their names and photos makes them less safe, now and in the future.
This is not the way we protect our children.