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Local opinion columnists

Step back, take a breath, then report the news

By From page A8 | February 10, 2013

It’s not always best, or even appropriate, to print all the information you know or think you know as a journalist. The investigation into the death of Genelle Renee Conway-Allen is one such instance.

Genelle, 13, of Suisun City, was a student at Green Valley Middle School and lived in a foster home in Suisun City. She was last seen Jan. 31 after school, walking through various areas of Fairfield and Suisun City, and was reported missing that evening to Suisun police. Her naked body was found early Feb. 1 at Allan Witt Park.

Her accused killer, Anthony L. Jones, 32, of Fairfield, was behind bars as of Friday afternoon. He’s being held without bail on suspicion of murder, kidnapping to commit rape, rape, and lewd and lascivious acts on a child. Court records indicate that Jones may have a volatile temper, enough so that his wife was able to get a temporary restraining order against him.

Jones is scheduled to be arraigned Wednesday afternoon in a Fairfield court, one day after a court holiday.

The community came together Friday night for a blessing at Allan Witt Park, and for a candlelight vigil to remember Genelle and to show support for her friends and family.

These are the facts as they developed over the course of nine days.

Some of this information came out in various news reports before it was released by police. That’s part of what journalists do: We ferret out information that government or other sources would rather hold back. The Daily Republic knew some of what was reported in the days prior to the information being confirmed by police, but chose not to publish it for reasons I will explain later.

Let’s take Genelle’s identity. Those who knew Genelle were among the first to know that the girl found dead in the park was their friend and classmate. Police did not release her name until several days later. School and school district officials followed suit, limiting access to both information and the campus. Yet, Genelle’s name was out there on social media. Extended family members were talking about their deceased relative with various news organizations. The first reporting of her name, while correct in pronunciation, had her first name misspelled and did not have her complete last name.

There are only so many reasons why police withhold the name of a homicide victim. The most common is so they have time to properly notify all appropriate family members. We’re inclined to allow that process to play out, no matter how long it takes, unless police prove they are abusing the protocol.

I do not believe that was the case with Genelle. That’s why we did not report her name until police released it to the general public. Would you want to read about a loved one’s death in the paper, or on the Internet, before you were properly notified by authorities?

Police kept other specifics of the case close, they said repeatedly, so as to not impede the investigation. We asked specific questions, they refused to answer. That’s how it goes sometimes. Again, it has not been our experience that Fairfield police abuse this protocol. Do we report it anyway, and potentially help a killer go free? Each case is different.

Our charge is to report significant news in the communities we serve. We do so to the best of our abilities. When it’s hard news, such as the investigation into a homicide, we require more than a generic reference to “sources” before we publish information. If we do not have independent confirmation of critical information, from a knowledgeable, reliable source, we will not publish. We have strict guidelines for the use of anonymous sources that go far beyond the aforementioned reference to “sources.” Sometimes anonymous sources are necessary to get information out to the public. Those times should be the exception, not the rule, and should be clearly stated in the reporting.

Genelle’s death and the investigation that followed was big news that made headlines across the state. Every regional media outlet you can envision was here in Fairfield, trying to get the story for their readers or viewers. We were doing the same.

That said, there are times when journalists need to take a deep breath and examine what they’re reporting, why they’re reporting it, and whether they should be reporting it. Just because we can print specific information about a victim’s identity, or specifics of a homicide investigation, doesn’t mean that we always should.

We believe the investigation into Genelle’s death was one of those times when caution was the appropriate choice. Throughout our coverage, we provided factual information that was properly attributed to reliable sources. Some specifics were not initially reported, but I do not believe anyone who followed our reporting could argue that they did not know what was happening with the case, at least in the most broad sense.

There is much still to be reported on this case. We will continue to pursue information not only with an eye toward accuracy, but also with an eye toward serving the community.

Reach Managing Editor Glen Faison at 427-6925 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GlenFaison.

Glen Faison

Glen Faison

Glen Faison joined the Daily Republic as managing editor in September 2009. He previously worked as a reporter and editor for daily and weekly newspapers in the San Joaquin Valley for 20-plus years. His experience includes time as editor of the Golden Eagle, a military paper serving the Lemoore Naval Air Station. He graduated from Fresno State University with a bachelor's degree in journalism and bleeds Bulldogs red. He is an avid fan of the NFL's Washington team, and attended the 1988 NFC Championship Game against the Minnesota Vikings at RFK Stadium. He's a member of the Fairfield-Suisun Twilight Rotary Club and a board member for the Solano County Library Foundation. He married his wife, Jill, in 2005, and has three children: Courtni, Tyler and Hayli.

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