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Mahoney

Posted: March 13, 2012 11:44 a.m.
Updated: March 14, 2012 5:00 a.m.

One of the things that makes community newspapering difficult is covering painful stories. Reporters and editors who report on controversial events for metro newspapers located in large urban areas seldom know the people they’re reporting on -- or their friends and family members. Conversely, in a tight-knit community like Camden, such stories take on a much more personal impact, because so many of the participants know each other.

So it has been with the case involving Clarence Mahoney, a former Camden resident who was extremely active in community affairs and in his church during his decades of living here. Mahoney was charged with felonious sexual assault against a minor several months ago. The alleged offenses did not take place in Camden but rather in other states. This newspaper reported the charges in a straightforward manner, quoting documents and law enforcement officials.

Prominent, community-minded people being charged with committing heinous deeds often breaks the mold that police officers, prosecutors, reporters and readers see all too often, that of repeat offenders who can't seem to rid themselves of criminal habits. And when upstanding people have been active for many years in causes which help others, it makes their actions all the more difficult to understand. There's often a sense of disbelief among those who know them -- “surely this can't be true” -- and the answer, for some of them, comes in the form of an old cliché: kill the messenger.

The Chronicle-Independent, like other newspapers, is the messenger. And yes, there were some who denounced the paper’s reporting the charges after they were made public. A few were angry to the point of vituperation. But in fact, newspapers like the C-I take no pleasure in such stories, and the charge that they report them "just so you can sell newspapers" holds no water. Newspaper circulation isn't based on one-time events but rather on long-term coverage that provides information to readers.

The Mahoney episode, including Monday’s story about his intention to plead guilty, has been particularly painful. Some of those involved in the publishing decisions were friends of the family, and like most small towns, friendships weave their way through many avenues. But the bottom line is that newspapers report facts. Happy stories -- awards given, championships won, diseases cured -- are much easier to report than unpleasant ones. But in newspapering, the dreaded comes along with the glorious. We try to report such stories as factually and tactfully as possible, knowing there are always friends and family members left behind to suffer consequences of actions they had absolutely nothing to do with. And in the end, as much as we would like not to, we must report the stories. It's what newspapers do.

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