Letter to the editor

As a Pitt-Johnstown  alumnus and former Advocate staff member, I am troubled by the recent push to defund the student newspaper over the publishing of names of those accused of crimes.

Reporting on the police blotter – whether it is the Pitt-Johnstown Police crime log or law violation reports filed at District Justice John Barron’s office – is not a new practice. When I was on staff back in the early ‘90s, we also reported on matters from the police blotter. While we caught some flak for doing so, we were never threatened with defunding if we continued to exercise the First Amendment rights of the media to report the news.

Whether those accused of crimes like it or not, information from the police blotter is news. Every newspaper I have worked for during my journalism career has placed priority on checking the police log. While I can understand the reluctance of those accused of crimes of having their names appear in the paper, journalists are duty-bound to report on all crimes.

A democracy requires informed citizens, and, as the Fourth Estate, journalists are responsible for helping to keep the citizens informed. It is not the newspaper’s job to prove guilt, but rather the government’s. Both witnesses and additional victims have come forward after seeing initial reports in the media of various crimes. Reporting on incidents has helped to both clear and convict those accused of crimes.

Allowing Pitt-Johnstown petitioners to gag the First Amendment rights of their fellow students is neither a productive life lesson nor one rooted in reality. Attempts to do the same with media outlets outside of the Pitt-Johnstown campus publishing the same information would not prove successful.

As a journalist, I received many requests, complaints and outright threats from those who didn’t want to have their names associated with information obtained in police reports. The requests were always denied, and I was always backed by my editor and publisher. It is important to note that the courts have upheld the rights of the media to publish such information because it is considered public record. So, what are we teaching our young adults by giving into their demands? We’re certainly not teaching them how the real world works.

I support The Advocate staff and their adviser as they continue to exercise their rights as a free press.  I also encourage the UPJ administration and student government to do the right thing in this situation, which is to support their student newspaper.

Shari Berg
Pittsburgh, PA
UPJ Class of 1996
Former Advocate Copy Editor/Staff Writer/Photo Editor