Hot News, Sad Day

What a day today was. I spent most of the day in the Cranmore parking lot getting sunburnt, surrounded by television crews. Police found the body of 20-year-old Krista Dittmeyer in a pond at the base of the ski area this morning, putting an end to a multiday search. It took them until 6:30 p.m. to confirm they found her, and for much of the day people were very upset with us for reporting on Facebook that a body had been found. People thought we were being disrespectful of Dittmeyer’s family, or that we were jumping the gun and reporting things we didn’t know.

I knew there was a body in the pond at 9:15 a.m. I 100 percent knew it, a police officer confirmed it. For me there was no choice but report that as soon as possible.

I get paid to do what is essentially a public service: to keep the public informed. When I know something, and I know the information is good, it is my job to inform the public.

And yet it provoked anger, rage even.

On Saturday I posted on the Conway Daily Sun’s Facebook page that a 20-year-old Portland woman was missing, and that her baby had been left in the car. I got that information from a police officer, and I trusted it to be true. I put it on the Facebook page as soon as I could, not knowing how else I could get it out there (our next paper wasn’t until Tuesday).

For days since that first post people have begged for information. Each morning there were requests for. On Easter Sunday someone asked for an update before I was out of bed. As soon as I saw it I put a call in to the police station. There wasn’t any news, and right away I posted that on Facebook.

I would never have held information back then. I would welcome criticism if I did. But the same is true for bad news.

When I posted the police found a body I didn’t say it was Dittmeyer’s because I didn’t know. But I did say they found a body, because the fact is they had.

“But you didn’t know,” people might say, “no one confirmed there was a body.”

If the house in front of you is burning, yet the chief of police says it isn’t burning, what would you report? Confirmed or not by an official police spokesmen, I knew there was a body in that pond.

“Other news agencies aren’t reporting it yet, it must not be true!”

It’s true, other news agencies didn’t report it, but it was true. There was a body in that pond, and it was Krista Dittmeyer. It was true at 9:30 a.m. when I posted on Facebook they had found a body, and it was true at 6:30 p.m. when the assistant attorney general told the TV cameras it was Dittmeyer. I had good information, and just like when it was good news, I did not hesitate to give it directly over to the public. The Sun never said it was Dittmeyer before the assistant attorney general identified her, but the fact is from the start we were right on the body.

That wasn’t by chance. It was because of good, solid reporting by the Sun team. Official confirmation or not, we knew.

Only the day before I had a great lesson in this. For days no official source would say a thing about the father of Krista Dittmeyer’s baby. So I started digging. With the help of colleagues at the Sun and others around the community, I discovered a man named Kyle Acker was the father, and that he was in prison in Maine for selling drugs. When I approached official sources about this, they refused to comment, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s true. It went in the paper. We beat out every other news agency in the country with that information. That’s good reporting, and it was the TRUTH.

I take my job seriously. I do not publish information I believe to be incomplete or untrue, and I will not hold back information I believe the public wants to know. The community at large has been hungry for information about Dittmeyer since the start of the case. They celebrated us for giving it to them when they hoped she was alive; they can’t crucify us for doing the same thing now that she is dead.

If I can confirm it, out it goes, just like it did this morning.

Official sources are wonderful, but they can’t rule a journalist. When an official source wants to get information out they can, but what about when those sources want to hold back information?

That is when a journalist’s job actually begins. Retyping press releases isn’t reporting. Reporting is learning new facts and verifying statements, even if people don’t want you to know those facts or check their statements. The public is entitled to the TRUTH, even if it sucks. And they are entitled to it right away, without censorship or delay.

I do not fault the official sources — in this case the attorney general’s office or the Conway Police Department — for trying to keep a tight lid on this investigation. But just because they don’t hand me every fact on a platter doesn’t mean I should stop looking. Today I verified there was a body in the pond, and I put it out to the public. To do otherwise would be unethical.

Painful truth is still TRUTH, and verified facts are still facts. Reporters delve for truth and facts, instead of only publishing the easy story, should be celebrated, even if the truth is painful.

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