Confidential for a reason

by Brian Clarey

It was an interesting moment for Greensboro media when copies of a much ballyhooed – and confidential – investigation of David Wray’s police department hit the streets of the Gate City like a pack of LA rich boys on the Vegas Strip.

The document, compiled by Risk Management Associates out of Raleigh, had heretofore been seen only by a handful of city employees, a small number of reporters and editors at the News & Record – who were given an unauthorized copy in May – and the members of the Greensboro City Council, who were each given copies to read and then return.

And then there it was, quietly leaked to a few media outlets and making its way around the ConvergeSouth blogging convention that weekend like the chronic at Bonnaroo.

Perhaps it was inevitable that the report found its way to the web, especially after being dropped on certain members of the Greensboro blogosphere, a group with the tools and the talent to zip the thing worldwide in a matter of minutes – so fast, perhaps, that the question, “How can we do this?” superceded the question of whether the thing should be done at all.

We at YES! Weekly have been trying to get our hands on this report for months. We thought that, as a taxpayer-funded document that concerns our own police department, all who want should be able to see the contents; we even signed a petition circulated by Greensboro101, the local internet media aggregator through which the document was eventually posted, to that effect.

This was before we knew what was in the report.

The RMA report is’… was’… a confidential file for a reason. It stains reputations and casts many individuals in unflattering hues, some of whom are relatively innocent. And some of the information in it could severely shorten the lifespan of a few individuals.

Some say the rules in the blogosphere are different from the ones we follow at weekly newspapers. I won’t speak to that. But at newspapers the final decision on whether to run something falls to the editor.

That’s me.

Sure, I could have put the thing in a PDF and had it out on the web within hours of reading it. I could have redacted the parts that broke confidences or compromised privileged information. And maybe I should have – after all, the thing’s in the hands of anyone who wants to get a peek at this point. But I didn’t. And I won’t.

Journalism is more than facts organized on a page, and a big part of what we do, those of us entrusted with the megaphones, is come to terms with the power of the printed word and the realization that a story does not end with its publication in a newspaper. In many instances that is just the beginning.

So we will continue to report on the unfolding police scandal and the reactions to it. We will question the ramifications of the document and its greater context. But we will do so within the ethical guidelines of journalism as I understand them, with truth as the eventual goal.

– Brian Clarey