Kathy Fairchild, a columnist and former police/courts reporter for the Marshall Democrat-News newspaper, recently talked to students in the Mass Communication Media Law & Ethics class about issues of journalism and law.
Fairchild graduated with a bachelor of Arts degree in Business Administration from Marycrest College in Davenport, Iowa, in 1986. Fairchild’s passion for learning continued when she gained a paralegal certification at New York University in 2003.
Fairchild’s investigative skills were cultivated through years of experience that began with a position of a clerk at the newspaper and morphed into a writer and reporter for the Marshall Democrat-News newspaper.
Censorship was the initial topic to the class. Fairchild asked, “What is censorship?.” The responses were diverse from students. Fairchild went to explain what censorship means in relation to media in American society. Censorship in media is critical because it creates a conduit for newspaper agencies to avoid potential libel lawsuits against them. Fairchild said that the words that are used in articles must carry precision and accuracy of facts. “Newspapers can reject, can censor the material submitted,” Fairchild said.
Also, it is the traditional policy of most newspapers for reporters not to print any names of defendants until the charges are final, she added.
Though all the reporters can have opinions, when it comes time to write a story, Fairchild said, “You can’t let opinion seep into your story.” She added, “Sometimes you have to edit yourself.”
Fairchild used an example of two stories that carried weight in the court of law. The reports of the cases did not correspond with the reality of the circumstances.
With of these cases, Fairchild investigated and found discrepancies in police reports that did not match the actuality of the circumstances, so it was hard to retract or correct after a report is published, especially online. “You cannot ring the bell twice,” Fairchild said. After laborious hours of diligent work, Fairchild rectified the story and restored its truth.
Fairchild also noted that a large percentage – 95 percent of court cases – are plea-bargained, which eliminates the need for a trial and is resolved through plea. She explained some of the legal terms and law procedure that the court system utilizes to describe its process. “Bail” is a legal term that is quintessential for human rights and preserved by the Eighth Amendment to give the opportunity to a defendant to get out of a jail for a sum of money in order for the defendant to aid his or her attorney’s preparation for the case.
Finally, Fairchild asked the students to study and follow the Stolen Valor Act, emphasizing the importance of precise language. It is about people who “lie” about their military service and medals. The act is headed to the Supreme Court to see if “lying” about such circumstances should be a federal crime.
Zeb Dintelman, a senior majoring in Criminal Justice, said that major crimes are not only in cities, but also in small towns like Marshall and Saline County. “Overall, the presentation was interesting and I gained a lot of information from it,” Dintleman added.
Jordan Nichols, a senior majoring in Mass Communication with a Broadcast concentration, said that he thought Kathy Fairchild was informative about what to expect in the life of a news reporter. “She showed us the possible challenges,” Nichols said. “But also told us that it is a rewarding profession.”