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Answering the calls

September 22, 2010 - Heather Ziegler

When the phone rings in the newsroom, we never know who the caller will be or what they may want. News people tend to get the calls for help from people who have exhausted all other means of fixing a bad situation. In many cases, I get those calls during the daytime. Often the callers have court problems, especially involving child custody cases. While I feel for these callers, it's often a lawyer that they need, not a newspaper reporter. However, it does appear to me that there are issues in family court that need some attention. So many people, especially single moms and dads, feel helpless when it comes to custody battles in some of our small towns.

Other callers to the newsroom often want help with sorting out a problem with a business. Sometimes I will make a call to inquire about a situation, but again, I am not a lawyer. Legal issues are just that, and many times our hands are tied in what we can do to intervene.

Recently, however, the calls for help have been from people living in less than desirable apartments or housing. One caller last week complained of a growing mold problem in her apartment building, a structure operated by a health system organization. I told her the first call should be to the organization and if that did not result in any action, she should contact the health department. I am following up on this case but there are many more like it. One caller living in an apartment building on Wheeling Island said her landlord, a local professional, charges high rent but the places are a mess. Again, I suggested she call the health department and the Wheeling Human Rights Commission. She plans to get back to me to let me know what happens.

Many more calls to the newsroom are from people who have been arrested and want their names kept out of the newspaper. Anyone who calls will hear the same answer from any editor in the building -- if the name is on the police blotter, a public document, it will be published in the newspaper. We do not pick and choose what names go in the paper. We do not hold names out unless a person is a juvenile or a victim of a sex crime.

However, this past weekend the police blotter contained a one-line report of a DUI arrest. There was no time, place or name of the arrested person listed on the report. That information was withheld by police, not the newspaper.

It's not easy to hear the heartbreaking stories of some of our callers, but we do try to help when we can. But when it comes to police reports and arrests, we cannot and do not pick and choose.


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