Public Editor

September 13, 2013

Custody cases difficult for news coverage

Readers very often want reporters to look into their individual custody cases. While they’re often heartbreaking, they also pose journalistic issues.

Today I got email from a grandmother who is understandably just about at the end of her rope.

Without getting too deep into the specifics, she is embroiled in a custody dispute with her son, whose children the grandparents had practically raised as their own. After a family fight, the son will no longer allow the grandparents to see the grandchildren, and there are various legal obstacles that allows him to continue to do so.

She wants The Star to write about the case. I did of course pass it along to editors and reporters for consideration, but there are lots of ways these types of stories are problematic for news coverage.

First and foremost, without in any way diminishing these grandparents’ pain, these stories are depressingly extremely common. However, if one points up something that sparks legitimate debate in how the applicable law is written, then there may be the makings of a news story there.

There’s also another built-in problem when the story concerns minors. There are many privacy laws pertaining to what government agencies will disclose about children. Journalists also must protect children’s identities when they may be at danger, so writing about the parents and grandparents’ dispute would necessarily reveal the children’s identities by association.

There’s no one answer here, and it’s possible this case may result in coverage. I’ll always pass along the ideas, even realizing they may not be fruitful.

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