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A note about our coverage of Greitens' indictment

A note about our coverage of Greitens' indictment

February 25th, 2018 by Rebecca Martin in Opinion

Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens speaks during an interview in his office at the Missouri Capitol Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018, in Jefferson City, Mo. Greitens discussed having an extramarital affair in 2015 before taking office. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

It's been a complicated week.

The announcement Thursday that a St. Louis grand jury had indicted Gov. Eric Greitens on a felony charge of invasion of privacy ignited quick reactions from lawmakers and citizens — as well as lengthy discussions among journalists.

We want our readers to understand some of the decisions we've made about how to cover this ongoing story, especially when stakes are so high for Missouri. This column seeks to explain some of the decisions we've faced so far.

When news of the indictment first broke Thursday afternoon, we shared as much information as we had available from the Associated Press on our website, updating it regularly as additional reporting became available. Especially for this initial coverage, our content-sharing relationship with AP was essential to sharing information about events happening in St. Louis with our readers in a timely manner. We rarely send our reporters to St. Louis, as they're needed here in Jefferson City and Mid-Missouri to report on our community.

While AP provided the initial statewide coverage, we tried to do what we do best: provide local context. Our reporters reached out to five state lawmakers who represent Mid-Missouri communities and combed social media for additional legislative context. We're grateful to state Sen. Mike Kehoe, a Republican from Jefferson City and the Senate's majority leader, for making time to respond quickly and thoughtfully.

In today's edition, our reporting staff has followed up with insight into the invasion of privacy charge as well as the process and history of political impeachment in Missouri. As is true for any citizen, Greitens remains innocent until proven guilty. Had state House of Representatives leadership not announced the undertaking of a legislative committee to investigate the charges against Greitens — a potential first step toward impeachment— we might not have decided to address the concept in depth yet.

Our approach isn't identical to other media outlets' coverage, and we expect many other news organizations continue to have conversations about how to handle this complicated issue responsibly.

We've refrained from printing Greitens' booking photo taken during his brief time in custody in St. Louis. While the "mug shot" would communicate accurately that he spent time in custody, our publication does not necessarily use those photos with articles about criminal charges as a policy. When we do, it is primarily to help readers identify a person, and we have several higher-quality photos of Greitens.

We've made efforts not to pile on other potential grievances with Greitens. His clashes with state lawmakers, use of a secretive messaging app to communicate with staff, "dark money" campaign contributions, and criticism for appearing to stack the State Board of Education are all issues that warrant news coverage. However, Greitens has been charged only with invasion of privacy.

We've also refrained from mentioning auxiliary details about Greitens' children. The criminal allegations are his, not theirs.

Greitens' case is ongoing. We understand its seriousness and implications for Missouri. We will continue to seek relevant information, whether produced by our own reporters or by the Associated Press, and we will continue trying to report it to our community fairly and ethically.

As Jefferson City's community newspaper, we want to be fair to the people involved in this story and to Missourians, who have a stake as voters, taxpayers and citizens. If you have questions or suggestions about the governor's indictment or about our coverage of it, please contact us via email to rebecca@newstribune.com or by using the online feedback form at newstribune.com/about-us.

Rebecca Martin is city editor for the News Tribune, who coordinates news coverage and reporter assignments.