Public Editor

Why no cause of death for man accused of molestation?

I heard from several readers today who reasonably questioned a curious lack of detail in a prominent story.

James M. Owens, 29, who taught at William Chrisman High School and Bingham Middle School in Independence, had faced child enticement and molestation charges involving alleged actions with a 14-year-old student. An item posted yesterday on KansasCity.com and on the front page of the print edition today revealed that he died yesterday.

However, it didn’t say anything about the cause of death. An update, released just as I’m typing this, says the medical examiner has ruled it a suicide.

“If you don’t know, or can’t say, I think the article should have at least said that,” said one caller. Fair point. I agree with her that most people assumed suicide was the cause, though I don’t think the story should have included that speculation.

The Star’s usual policy is that suicides of private individuals are not reported on, unless they happen in a particularly public place or there’s something significantly out of the ordinary about them that makes them a public concern. In this case, though, Owens was a public figure.

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