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Capital Sunshine: Ethics in Self-Reporting

By T.C. Cameron

Is any paper truly prepared to self-report on the alleged criminal conduct of one of its own?

The Capital found out March 9 when it published a front-page story of the arrest of interactive media editor George “Nick” Lundskow. An investigation by the Child Predator Unit from the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General led to charges that Lundskow, 55, solicited a person via an Internet chat room he believed to be a 14-year-old girl to have sex with him.

Lundskow, a 25-year Capital employee, was charged with five crimes, including statutory sexual assault, unlawful contact with a minor and aggravated indecent assault. If convicted, Lundskow faces up to 71 years in prison and $120,000 in fines. He agreed to extradition to Pennsylvania, according to a published report March 11.

Steve Gunn, who was just hired as the new editor from Charlotte (N.C.) Observer, was competing his first week on the job when the news of the arrest broke. Gunn declined comment, except to describe the charges as “serious.” However, when asked about what considerations went into the story placement, comment moderation and other ethical considerations, Gunn said, “We think it’s best to let our actions speak for us.”

The Capital was not the first to report the arrest — Baltimore television station WMAR (ABC) broadcast it on the 11 p.m. news — but the Capital published the story online at 12:15 a.m. as soon as it was edited and before Saturday morning’s publication was delivered.

What do other MDDC-member publications consider when forced to report on alleged criminal activity of one of their own?

David Ledford, executive editor of the News-Journal in Wilmington, says an even-handed approach works best.

“Parity and transparency are most important,” Ledford said. “Don’t bury it, but be transparent about it.”

The original story from reporter Elisha Sauers drew 52 comments, while Heather Rawlyk’s follow-up has elicited 14 more as of press time. If the comments are an indicator, the majority of the community has lauded the paper’s editorial department for reporting this story and keeping readers updated.

Ledford says the Capital has handled the situation well.

“You have to remove the person charged from the story from their employment without pronouncing them guilty, and you have to let that justice system take its course,” Ledford said. “If anyone in a newsroom is charged that person must be treated as any other news subject. I tell my writers all the time if you get a DUI, it’s going to be in the paper.”

Ledford also discussed the story’s placement in print and online presentations.

“In terms of play, the story has to be taken in consideration with everything else going on from a news standpoint,” Ledford said. “When there’s a new pope elected, it’s probably not going on the front page, but it’s probably on the front of the metro section.”

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