Feedback Vital for Community, Newspaper

By Robert Moore
The Coloradoan
February 5, 2006

Readers of the Coloradoan often call or write when they think we could have done something better. Even when I don't agree, their feedback reminds me of how important the paper is to the community.

The reader criticism helps us get better. This past week, three stories or editorials brought thought-provoking reader reaction.

On Jan. 30, we had an editorial about attempts in Larimer County courts to delay or impede public access to information in high-profile criminal cases.

The editorial was prompted by a motion to bar the public from a pretrial hearing for a former priest, Timothy Evans, accused of sexual abuse. Defense lawyers were surprised the Coloradoan knew about the motion to bar the public from the hearing, because they believed the judge had earlier issued an order to temporarily block public access to everything in the case file.

District Judge Jolene Blair, in rejecting the motion to close the pretrial hearing, clarified that her earlier ruling on sealing records applied only to a couple of affidavits from police.

Evans' attorney, Erik Fischer, wrote me a strong letter last week to say the editorial was an "attempt to smear Mr. Evans' legal counsel."

I wrote in response - and repeat it here - that the editorial was not intended as commentary on Evans' attorneys. They are doing nothing more than vigorously advocating for their client, which is their job.

The editorial was meant to point out what we see as shortcomings in the Larimer County criminal justice system. It worries us when a judicial climate creates a well-intentioned belief that lawyers can attempt to keep the public from a hearing without giving advance notice to those who would be barred.

Members of the legal community undoubtedly have a different viewpoint on the issue of sealing records, and we invite them to submit commentary for this page.

We also received e-mails last week on our Monday front-page story about an official misconduct charge against Charles Davidshofer, director of CSU's University Counseling Center. The writers felt that the misdemeanor charge didn't merit the coverage given.

Davidshofer is accused of allowing loose accounting practices that led to the alleged embezzlement of $17,000 by one of his former employees.

Though Davidshofer is not suspected of benefiting, investigators found that he had been warned as early as 1992 about the alleged sloppy accounting practices.

In our view, the management of public money is an inherently important story. Davidshofer has a long history of accomplishment and is well-respected in Fort Collins, but that doesn't make the story less newsworthy.

I felt we came up short in a follow-up story. Our Tuesday story detailing the 1992 audit did not include response from Davidshofer or details about his accomplishments at CSU.

That wasn't fair. Though it didn't make up for our error, we followed up the next day with a front-page story quoting several of Davidshofer's friends praising his character and citing his accomplishments.

The other story to provoke comment was coverage in Thursday's paper of a police shooting of a suicidal man. The story didn't identify the man because police had not released his name, but it did identify the owner of the home where the shooting occurred.

One reader wrote: "The homeowner is active in the community, has children in the community, and you have clearly violated her privacy."

Reporters are trained to gather as much information as possible. We don't need to publish everything we learn, however. Making decisions on what to publish, especially on deadline, can be tricky.

In this case, I agree with the reader's objection. I don't think including the owner's name added substance, even though we later learned the deceased was her husband.

If you have feedback on our stories or editorials, don't hesitate to call or e-mail me. We won't always agree, but I'll always learn something from the discussion.

Robert Moore is the executive editor of the Coloradoan.


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