Getting It Right

On November 1st, the body of Elaine Mansfield was found in a hotel room in the 8800 block of South Hosmer. Shortly after this, police said they were looking for a man who was seen with her near the time of her death. As this page talks about homicides that happen in the city of Tacoma, I contacted police spokesperson Loretta Cool and asked for details. She said that Elaine’s death was ‘Not Homicide’ and the there was an ongoing investigation.

When this happens, I don’t typically write about it because then I would have no choice but to write about all deaths in Tacoma and I simply don’t have the time or resources to do so.

This evening the police caught up with the man they were looking for. Tacoma Weekly reported it with the following Tweet:

tweet

There’s nothing wrong with the Tweet. However, if you go to that link this is what you get:
TacomaWeekly
The headline is an attention grabber but it’s also inaccurate. Not only has the death not been ruled a homicide, but the article itself says as much in the first paragraph.

Let me be clear that this is not me trying to beat up on the Tacoma Weekly. While there are certainly media outlets that practice this sort of thing on a regular basis, I’ve seen nothing from the Tacoma Weekly to indicate this is any sort of pattern on their part. It’s likely just a lack of communication between the writer of the article and the writer of the headline.

Unfortunately when it comes to deaths, there are circumstances that are fairly typical. Recently there were two local gun deaths that took place in a house which had all the hallmarks of a suicide homicide. However, it turned out to be a double suicide. I had actually already written up the article fully expecting it to be a homicide and just waiting for the names to be released. But I waited to make sure it was before I posted about it.

Like that incident, the death of Elaine Mansfield has hallmarks of many other homicides I’ve reported on. A dead woman in a hotel room and a man the police have apprehended as a person of interest certainly sounds like a murder.

I’ve gotten things wrong before as well. It’s an occupational hazard. It’s also why I tend to wait for more information and multiple sources before I post something.

It may seem like a harmless mistake but there are people who will see this man’s photo and the headline and never read the article. There may be family and friends of the victim who will see this and think she was murdered when she wasn’t. There are real consequences to getting things wrong.

I’m hoping that the Tacoma Weekly will modify the headline and issue an apology.  I will update this article when and if they do.

– Jack Cameron

UPDATE 11/28/14: Tacoma Weekly has still not taken down the headline or apologized for it. The Tacoma News Tribune posted an article about the same thing with a much more responsible headline.

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One response to “Getting It Right

  1. Thank you for being an old-school, ethical journalist. Remember when all news reported responsibly?

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