Publishing the arrest page: dirty laundry or abdication of the presumption of innocence

In the late ’80s, Don Henley penned a hit about the insatiable public’s steady diet of evening news. “Dirty Laundry” is a catchy little tune with opening lines that reference how much people love to hear about others losing.

Henley could have hardly predicted how salacious people would evolve to become with the advent of the 24-hour cable news channel. And of course, when things really reached orbit with the advent of the Internet.

My friend, colleague, mentor, and Editor in Chief of St. George News, Joyce Kuzmanic, made local headlines over the weekend when she was arrested for driving while under the influence.

No doubt the editors over at The Spectrum felt that the usual arrest page publishing was not quite enough for the editor of one of their competitors; they felt it worthy to run it as a feature news story.

Fact is, I don’t blame them, and neither would Joyce, I’d wager. She’s a public figure, and the rag she oversees gleefully runs the same content regularly.

We’ve taken our lumps here at The Indy for sure, and we are bound to take a few more, but for the record, we don’t run arrest reports or the arrest page because, collectively, the editorial staff as well as the publisher see it as a blithe disregard of our judicial system to irresponsibly subject someone who is supposed to be innocent until proven guilty to the court of public opinion.

But understand that even we see that our hypocrisy knows no bounds.

As an opinion columnist, I regularly incite conversations about news-worthy events locally and beyond and by default take a stance on the issues. I could just as easily opine about the arrest and misfortunes of those whom I like or dislike and fall well under the purview of my First Amendment rights to do so.

The question really comes down to what the motive is I guess. For me personally, it is about getting after the truth.

But there is something that does not sit well with me and the arrest page. The fact that follow-up stories of those featured there are reserved for the more sensational of the accused and that the average so-and-so is considered hence forward from their published mug shot guilty of whatever they were arrested for, well, it bothers me. And it should bother you as well.

I asked a friend in local law enforcement about it once and was told the arrest page is published at the beckoning of the people. That the police would rather not do it. There’s one to be fleshed out, yeah?

People love it when you lose though, right?

For what it’s worth, I want to share with the readership here something they might not know about those of us in the press corps. In spite of working for different and competing publications, a lot of us are friends and colleagues. I have been on assignment with Jud Burkett covering drug busts in Pine Valley, and my sons attend school with his. I was at Todd Siefert’s going away party, and we had admonishing words for each other’s work. I have taken classes from Dave Demille’s wife and covered water conservancy stories with him. I consider him one of the best reporters in town. Ed Kociela is a close friend and mentor, as is Joyce Kuzmanic. Mori Kessler and I share the distinct privilege of being the two founding writers at St. George News still in the business and going strong. I’ve seen some flashes in the pan and some promising future writers both. In my career, I now have the privilege of not only writing and producing media but mentoring and developing up-and-coming writers.

What I am saying here is simple: There are real people behind the articles being published here locally, and the work they do is paid nominally if at all. But they do it and commit to doing it well for you, the reader.

Was Joyce Kuzmanic arrested for DUI and her face plastered all over the web for fifteen minutes? Sadly, yes. Will she press on, take her lumps, and continue to her commitment to producing solid news for you the reader? Most likely. And you, the reader, are lucky to have her.

See you out there, Chief.

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Dallas Hyland is a professional technical writer, freelance writer and journalist, award-winning photographer, and documentary filmmaker. As a senior writer and editor-at-large at The Independent, Hyland’s investigative journalism, opinion columns, and photo essays have ranged in topics from local political and environmental issues to drug trafficking in Utah. He has also worked the international front, covering issues such as human trafficking in Colombia. His photography and film work has received recognition as well as a few modest awards and in 2015, he was a finalist for the Mark of Excellence Award from the Society of Professional Journalists. Based in southern Utah, he works tirelessly at his passion for getting after the truth and occasionally telling a good story. On his rare off-days, he can be found with his family and friends exploring the pristine outdoors of Utah and beyond.