Experts question paper’s handling of sex offender reporter
The publisher of the Barre-Montpelier Times Argus on Wednesday defended the paper’s handling of the hiring of a convicted sex offender to cover police and courts, and the paper’s editor said he had carefully screened Eric Blaisdell before hiring him this summer.
However, national experts in journalism ethics are raising concerns about the paper’s handling of the matter and allowing Blaisdell to report on sex crime cases.
Blaisdell, 27, an award-winning student journalist while at Lyndon State College, is a registered sex offender in both New Hampshire — where the Internet sex offenses took place six years ago — and Vermont, where he has worked since June.
“I applaud the efforts of the criminal justice system in fairly administering punishment to those who have broken the law and also offering an opportunity for rehabilitation,” said publisher R. John Mitchell in a statement to The Times Argus and its sister publication, the Rutland Herald. “This is an incredibly well supervised and restricted situation by the judge, the probation officer and a therapist, I am not going to second guess that process, am willing to participate in it and give it a chance.”
Blaisdell a lifelong resident of North Haverhill, N.H., was caught in an Internet sex sting with police officers with the Southern Hillsborough County (N.H.) Cybersafe Task Force and a volunteer advocate with www.perverted-justice.com, an online vigilante group. He was 21 and a student at New Hampshire Technical Institute in Concord, N.H., when he was arrested in February 2007 for soliciting sex with a 13-year-old girl in Walpole, N.H., who turned out to be a police officer.
He pleaded guilty to three felonies — the Vermont equivalent of attempted aggravated sexual assault — and was sentenced to a year in prison. He served nine months at the Grafton County jail in his hometown of North Haverhill, and remains on probation until November 2013 for one of the offenses.
The story detailing Blaisdell’s criminal history, which questioned his ability to cover cops and courts, was published in Wednesday’s Seven Days, a weekly publication in Burlington.
Neither Mitchell, General Manager Catherine Nelson, editor of The Times Argus Steven Pappas or Blaisdell spoke to Seven Days columnist Paul Heintz for the story, a decision criticized by media ethics experts at both the Poynter Institute and the Society for Professional Journalists.
The rule of the game in 2012 in journalism is transparency, transparency and more transparency, said Kelly McBride, a senior faculty member at the Poynter Institute, a media think tank in St. Petersburg, Fla. McBride specializes in media ethics.
McBride, who has taught media ethics for the past 10 years, said she had never encountered such a question before.
The newspaper, which makes its living holding people in power accountable, should hold itself to the same standard, she said.
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