To our readers:
On Friday the Times Argus published an article about the murder of Courtney Gaboriault and the subsequent suicide of her ex-boyfriend, Luke Lacroix, her murderer.
Following publication, the article received criticism from multiple members of the public and law enforcement because they felt it did too much to memorialize the killer, and not enough to remember the victim of this heinous crime, Gaboriault. The way the article was written, the criticism said, minimized the horrific nature of the domestic violence that led to her death, and his culpability in that act. In addition, some readers said they believed the story blamed the victim for the crime. Others defended the reporting, pointing out that the facts surrounding the killer were important in that they showed that even well-liked members of the community can be capable of terrible things.
We are sorry the article has caused our community so much additional pain.
On Saturday, Times Argus Editor Steven Pappas and General Manager Shawn Stabell asked me to take a look at this as a sort of ombudsman, as I was not involved at any point in the reporting or editing of this story, to see what the newspaper could do to respond to the criticism and take steps to correct any missteps.
After reading the two articles about the murder, speaking to the reporter, David Delcore, and reviewing reader comments and Facebook posts, I have several conclusions. Please excuse the dry nature of these thoughts, as I am well aware that this involves real people and terrible grief. But I am both trying to engage the criticism and to help find a path forward.
First, I find that the reporting on the facts of the case was accurate, but that the weight given to details about the murderer and his standing in the community did in practice create an imbalance in the article.
According to the common practice at the newspaper, the intent of the article was to first report the facts as we knew them at the time of reporting, and second to provide a picture of the people involved as much as possible. Often times the reporting takes place over the course of hours and days, as more details emerge. That was the case here, where the first article appeared online Wednesday, with the initial details, and the second article appeared online Thursday, with more detail. In the first instance, the article does describe the events of the day as accurately as the reporter and the editing staff were able. Many of the details were not available until later in the day on Thursday, and so Delcore spent much of the day attempting to establish the track record of the assailant, Lacroix, and waiting for further information on Gaboriault. There was no criminal record, or restraining orders on record, according to authorities when asked. After establishing that Lacroix was the Spaulding lacrosse coach, Delcore worked on establishing more details about him and who he was. All this reporting was done to try to find out whether there were warning signs or other evidence about Lacroix that would indicate he was capable of this act. What Delcore found is that the community around him was having trouble equating the lacrosse coach with the man who committed a heinous act of murder. This is the reasoning behind including so much detail about the murderer. It was not Delcore’s choice to paint a picture of him as a “good guy” — that was the story the community told.
This is where the editing team failed this story – by failing to recognize and correct this imbalance.
The description of Gaboriault misses the mark, by making her killer the center of the story, rather than her. There is some relevance to Lacroix’s standing in the community, as it serves to show that a person who is perceived in one way can be capable of the very worst. Yet by including so many details about him and his relationships, and comparatively few about Gaboriault, the article creates an unbalanced weight to the picture of the people involved. It also can have the effect of minimizing Lacroix’s culpability and guilt.
Many critics of this article have said this glorifies the murderer at the expense of his victim. In addition, some said that it blames the victim. There is extensive debate within the journalism community about how to approach this. How much weight do we give to reporting about perpetrators of horrific crimes? What purpose does reporting on the motives, the lives or the personalities of killers serve? In this case, the reporting serves to show that domestic abusers are not alien to our communities — they are among us, often unrecognizable as abusers to people other than their victims or a close circle of friends and families. Part of our role as journalists should be to educate the community on how to identify these signs, and the steps to intervene.
In addition, the article does show that she took the steps to leave what had become a troubled relationship. Delcore was not able to find more about this prior to publication — as noted above, there was no criminal record or much else documentation of those details available at the time of reporting. It is difficult to square that with the accusation that the article blames her for her killing. Yet some have pointed out, rightly, that whether or not she left him should have no bearing on the relative guilt. This is a level of nuance that we will work to address as part of how we report on domestic violence in the future.
In no way should this take precedence over the story of the life lost — that of Courtney Gaboriault, and the fact that Lacroix is culpable for her death and for the grief of not only her family and community but his own.
In retrospect, this was probably better done through breaking this story into separate articles — one about the events surrounding the murder, a separate follow-up about Lacroix and domestic violence, and, most importantly, an article about the life of Gaboriault, who by all accounts was a wonderful, accomplished woman. Delcore had started working on that part almost immediately, but for various reasons it was not ready for publication in the short time frame, and the immediate opportunity was lost.
This is sometimes our practice, and the separation allows for a focus on the life — as was the case in the killing of Lara Sobel. I raise that as a parallel because the reporting on her as a victim, and her fellow victims, did not take place until days after the killings. The reporter in that case waited until the memorial services to write about the victim in order to attempt to paint a fuller picture, and to give the family and friends time to collect their thoughts on their loved one. As journalists we often walk a line between being intrusive in the lives of victim’s families and being respectful of their grief. At the same time we serve the broader community by sharing their stories, which with murders are inevitably connected to their killer.
What steps can the Times Argus take to correct this? First, the apology.
For failing initially in our responsibility to highlight the brilliance of her life, we are truly, deeply sorry. It was not our intention, and an apology is not enough, but we work and live in this community and we feel the disappointment and pain around us. At the end of the day, this analysis will do nothing to change what has already been published. We can only attempt to do better, and intend to do justice to her as much as possible in the days to come.
Second, this newspaper, and the sister newspaper, the Rutland Herald, will take steps to re-evaluate how we cover domestic violence now and in the future. We have not updated our standards and processes for reporting on domestic abuse in years, and it is time for an overhaul. Sometimes we fall back on patterns built out of years of experience, and on this issue we need to re-establish a current and conscious understanding of our best practice and our role. As law enforcement and the criminal justice system have made steps to change their approach, we should, too. On Monday morning, the staff at the Times Argus met to review the circumstances of the story’s construction and editing, as well as to begin discussions about putting best practices in place for news gathering that will ensure this kind of misstep can not occur again. Pappas, the newspaper’s editor, also has begun scheduling meetings with community leaders and experts in victim advocacy and domestic violence issues in order to find ways to incorporate their knowledge into our processes.
Third, at the heart of this is a story about two lives. We cannot shy away from this — the beautiful young life of an innocent woman was taken from her and from her loved ones through a violent act. She was not responsible for that — in fact she had taken the right steps to exit an abusive relationship. The man who committed that heinous act did wrong both to her and to the people who loved him. He is ultimately responsible for this grief and this wrong. As a broader community it calls into question whether we actually know what lies within the people around us, and calls on us to do whatever we can to identify signs that might prevent another such act in the future.
For all of the people who have commented on Facebook and on the article, thank you for contributing your feedback. I am grateful that you have participated in a civil and thoughtful way. It will ultimately help us be a better news organization, but more importantly will focus our role in ending the plague of domestic violence.
Rob Mitchell is the general manager of the Rutland Herald, and one of that paper’s longtime editors.
This story has been edited and updated from its original version to include information from Monday, as well as additional analysis.