Tuesday, March 16, 2010

When the Watchdog Sleeps

On March 11, 2010, The Cedar Rapids Gazette posted an article about a man who was sentenced to 10 years in prison for sexually abusing a 4-year-old girl last summer. Daryl Bentley, 26, pleaded guilty. According to The Gazette, Bentley pleaded guilty to third-degree sexual abuse in a plea agreement, though he was originally charged with second-degree sexual abuse.

Watchdog journalism is down the toilet and needs to come back up. Reporters don't necessarily need to rake the muck, but they definitely need to let people know all the facts all the time.

The Gazette reported that Bentley sexually abused the little girl on June 17, 2009, while the girl was left in the care of Bentley's girlfriend. Bentley lived with his girlfriend, and when she left for a "brief time" that day, Bentley sexually abused the girl.

The article also reports that Bentley is related to two other pedophiles who are currently in jail: one with a life sentence, the other a 100-year federal prison sentence and another 25 years. Convicted child killer Roger Bentley kidnapped and murdered a 10-year-old girl in 2005, and Roger's brother James Bentley took pornographic photos of the girl and a 1-year-old girl in 2003. He also was convicted of sexually abusing the 10-year-old.

The information in this article is disturbing because of the crimes; however, the fact that information was absent from the story is also disturbing. I don't understand why no information was given about Daryl Bentley's girlfriend. Shouldn't she be held partially accountable for what happened to the little girl? The Gazette gives absolutely no information about her: no age, no name, no quotes, no reaction--nothing.

I also don't understand why the only quote in the article came from the assistant Linn County attorney. The article mentions that family members of the girl were "in favor" of the plea agreement to avoid "further harm" to the child. I want quotes from the family members. The article also says no victim impact statements were given at the sentencing and Bentley didn't speak. I think these facts are significant; I want a quote from Bentley's lawyer about why he didn't speak.

I want to know how Bentley acted during the sentencing--how did he react, respond, present himself. Even if The Gazette reporter wasn't there, the reporter could have asked people who were. The reporter simply reported the basic facts and did not dig deeper into the story.

The information about his pedophile relatives was a nice addition, and I think that information could have been used in the first or second graphs of the article, rather than the ending.

And P.S., with all of the Gazette's resources, could they not have used a better photograph? I mean, really? I didn't even want to put it on MY blog because it is so awful.

All-in-all, I think it's a sad story for many reasons. I think many people's actions led to the abuse of the little girl and more people should have been aware of the circumstances at the time. More people than Bentley should be held accountable to what happened to her.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Local Paper Copies, Doesn't Cover Conviction

On Tuesday, March 2, 2010, Mark Becker was convicted of killing small-town football coach Ed Thomas in June 2009. The jury announced its decision around 10:30 a.m. and the Iowa City Press-Citizen updated its Web site with the information in a story posted sometime that morning. The strange thing about this posting: it is not from the Press-Citizen; it is an Associated Press story.

This struck me as odd for several reasons. The case is a big deal, considering it's been covered by ESPN, The Huffington Post and CNN, along with other publications in the state of Iowa, of course. A person would think an Iowa City newspaper would have published something about it on their own, not relying instead on an AP story. Not writing it themselves is lazy. Even though the Press-Citizen isn't as close to Allison (where the trial was held) or Aplington/Parkersburg (where the shooting occurred) as other news organizations, it certainly is in the same state. Why wouldn't they cover it? Making a few phone calls to get the story is better than giving readers a story that some other publication wrote. The story was written well, obviously, since it's from the AP, but the Press-Citizen definitely should have written their own story covering the jury's decision and conviction.

Also, there were no photos to go along with the article. How does a publication not have a photo to go along with a big trial's results? That is lazy and lacking.

The Cedar-Rapids Gazette is merely 30 minutes or so north of Iowa City, and they not only covered and wrote about the trial themselves, they did all this. They trumped the Press-Citizen over about five times. The Gazette has "updates," multiple reaction videos and photos, as well as the conviction story on the same Web page. Creative coverage is always better than copied coverage.