WINDHAM, Maine — The publisher of the Windham Eagle decided to pull its police log this week, citing “negative drama” and threats against her husband and family from someone who “was not happy that their name appeared” there.
“Over the last six months, there’s been a series of events creating a lot of negative drama in our community,” said Kelly Mank, publisher of the weekly newspaper just northwest of Portland.
Mank said the threats against her family were “not death threats or terrible by any means,” but declined to elaborate on their nature. The Windham Police Department said it had not been notified of any threats reported by Mank or any Windham Eagle employee.
Mank said that the decision whether to pull the police log had been discussed several times over the years, and that the Windham Eagle was founded to do “positive, solutions-based journalism.”
The longstanding practice of publishing police arrest logs, which are public information, in community newspapers is an ethical quandary for editors. The Bangor Daily News does not print them, but some of its weekly sister papers, including the Houlton Pioneer Times and the Penobscot Times do.
Some readers have derided it as a type of sensational “clickbait” that predates the digital age. Media critics say it can uphold racist stereotypes in communities where the number of arrests of minorities is disproportionately high compared to the demographics of that region. A more accurate representation of criminal activity in the region, they argue, would be to focus on court records and include whether charges were later dropped.
But defenders of the practice maintain that arrest reports can be useful information for the public, and help keep police accountable by letting citizens know who is being arrested in their neighborhoods and for what violations.
The paper’s decision comes during a time of heightened public invective toward journalists.
“There’s so much negative news out there. That’s what people thrive on,” Mank said. “The last thing we want to do is put more negative out there.”
She said the public has a right to know arrest log information — it’s just not coming from the newspaper. Mank said that Managing Editor Lorraine Glowczak does a fantastic job determining “positive and solutions-based news,” which Mank said typically involves schools, kids and nonprofit coverage.
Who covers everything else?
“Whoever wants to,” Mank said.