About Chelyen Davis:
Chelyen Davis is health reporter for The Free Lance-Star
Want to comment? Sure, but there are standards
In more than 18 months of doing this blog, I have never removed a reader comment. Last week, I removed two of them.
The offending comments were attached to Thursday’s post about the new Falls Run Nursing & Rehabilitation center. One of the comments accused the administrator there of criminal conduct. The other described in harsh terms his personality and managerial skill. The writer conceded that he didn’t have first-hand knowledge of the man; he was simply repeating gossip.
Sorry, not here.
The management of this newspaper has ultimate control over what appears on our web site, but they have given the bloggers a lot of freedom to monitor and edit our own blogs. For me, that means that I will apply the same standards for libel that I work under every day in the print product.
I know that the Internet is a wild-west town where you can say almost anything about anyone. Apparently, even the courts look the other way, saying that those who host a web site are conveyors of information and not responsible for what people say on their sites.
But that’s not the standard in the newspaper. In the paper, we are responsible for our own words and for the words of others. If you injure someone’s reputation in a letter to the editor or in an ad, both you and the newspaper could be held responsible.
As I told my students at the University of Mary Washington, when I taught journalism there, when it comes to libel, truth is an absolute defense. Yet, it’s more complicated than that. If your work is challenged, you must be able to prove that what you said is true. If I accuse someone of criminal conduct, or say something that will damage their professional standing, I better be able to prove it. That means that I will have documents in hand, or I will rely on the testimony of someone in the know who is willing to repeat in court what he or she told me.
So, on this blog, if you want to accuse someone of violating the law or gross incompetence, let me know first. I’ll probably ask to see your evidence.