Howard Owens, publisher of The Batavian, a community news site in western New York, offers a useful lesson in listening to your audience.
On Friday, Owens posted a story about a couple who were arrested and charged with having sex on a picnic table at a public park. Both the 41-year-old woman and her 29-year-old paramour were charged with public lewdness. Weirdly, the woman, who is married and has children, was also charged with adultery.
Owens customarily publishes the names of every adult who is arrested. In this case, though, he named the man but not the woman, writing, “Because the woman is married with children, The Batavian has chosen to withhold her name.”
That led to a flood of comments, most of them from readers arguing that what was good for the man ought to be good enough for the woman as well. Owens, in turn, changed his mind and named the woman, writing:
After giving it much thought — listening to our critics, talking with Billie [his wife and business partner], considering previous cases — I’ve come to the conclusion that our decision Friday night not to publish the name was a mistake.
Never one to let an opportunity go to waste, Owens posted a poll question an hour and a half ago, asking, “When couples are caught in public having sex, should their names be released?” The results, as I write this: 68 percent “yes,” 15 percent “no,” 14 percent “maybe” and 3 percent “no opinion.” [Note: Results corrected as of 11:07 a.m.]
Given Owens’ policy of naming every person over 17 who is “arrested, detained or cited by local law enforcement when the name is released to the local media,” I think he made the right call.