By Andy Schotz | July 16th, 2010
Some questions of journalism ethics surface over and over.
One came up this week among members of the SPJ Ethics Committee: the pros and cons of using the descriptor “person of interest.”
I hate, hate, hate it.
I don’t fault police for using the vague phrase to flush people out to help speed up an investigation. But journalists should not let themselves be pawns.
Every time we hear this phrase, we need to ask why a person is considered of “interest.” As a possible suspect? A witness?
Why not keep asking until we can be more specific: “Police say John Doe might have witnessed the crime,” for example.
If the person is a suspect, but hasn’t been charged, would your news organization name him or her? That’s an essential discussion and we subconsciously evade it by ducking behind “person of interest.”
Not everyone on the committee agrees with me. We’ll move the discussion here. We welcome you to join in.