SIDNEY – "With great power – comes great responsibility," Uncle Ben said to Peter Parker, aka Spiderman.
There's a fine line between being a good steward of news and holding the powers that be accountable – and becoming a vigilante.
When heated and even passionate opinion becomes an ego-driven fact, you have now crossed the line; sprinkle in a little bit of anger and/or fear and now you've become a vigilante.
Newspapers are held responsible according to extremely high standards set nationally by not only the Associated Press (AP), and the National Newspapers Association (NNA) but also the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) and locally by the Nebraska Press Association (NPA).
There are set rules, regulations and statutory laws that we, as professional and educated journalists, must follow to continue to keep our credentials as a registered newspaper. That's an immense responsibility – especially for one of the oldest surviving newspapers in Nebraska; we turned 150 this year and we were the first newspaper in the Panhandle.
We cannot simply print details we've not adequately fact-checked and confirmed, especially when such information could cause undo harm to the public. There are rules, regulations and laws preventing us from printing things that could potentially be libelous, slanderous or potentially be considered a tort. There are tools and procedures available to credentialed reporters, not available to the general public, that make it possible to fact check information before publishing.
However, we have local organizations, who may have had good intentions when they started, publishing such potentially harmful things online without even an ounce of fact-checking. These posts are causing harm to innocent persons not associated with the content. This organization is becoming the very thing it set out to initially fight. Why? Because they haven't taken the time to do boot-to-pavement investigating or reporting – which has taken me the better part of 20 years and several advance journalism degrees to perfect.
Personally, I know a great deal more than what I have reported, or can report, at this present time – but I know enough to confirm the data this group is using isn't only inaccurate – it's skewed and being weaponized against certain members in the community because they want something done now.
This venom is directed in all the wrong places.
In a weeks' time, I was able to fact-check claims made by this group by pulling records and getting real-time data from not only the local authorities, but also the state and federal authorities. I can't say when all this will be ready to publish as it's still a work-in-progress, but what I can say is – the negligence of this group is putting the lives of innocent people in danger.
No matter how much you believe what it is you believe, and no matter how much you want "justice", you absolutely cannot follow and stalk someone or their family members. That's a criminal offense; that's what domestic terrorists do.
Encouraging the willful defiance of order and justice will not uncover misdeeds – at the end of the day, you aren't going to get the justice you so desperately seek, you're only going to get yourself in a whole lot of unnecessary trouble.
Unless you have constructive solutions – I think it's time you allow the true professionals the opportunity to do their job instead of putting members of the community in unnecessary harms way.
In your hand, or rather at the end of your fingertips on a keyboard, you hold an exceptional tool. You can choose to use it for good or you can be overcome by its power and inadvertently use it for bad. The pendulum doesn't sway so far in either direction and it easily, and often, is used improperly.