Here are excerpts form the Freedom Forum critique.
The Sun covered the story unblinkingly, in the best journalistic sense of that word. It’s coverage not only was thorough and fair but a virtual model of how a small news staff can roll into a major breaking story and cover it with accuracy, balance, completeness and detachment. Moreover, The Sun news team not only achieved that on the first day; it maintained cruising speed for the next 20-days.
Even more impressive, it did it in a way that not only fully informed readers—shielding them from none of the details of the event—but that also helped the community deal with its grief and slowly begin to heal itself.
To accomplish that would be a worthy challenge for a staff of 100 or more. But the entire Jonesboro Sun news staff comprises 16 reporters and editors, three photographers, four sports staffers plus some part-time students and two society reporters. How this small staff in a sparcely populated corner of Arkansas managed to do this is a story that is not only commendable for Jonesboro. It also can be instructive for all who care about doing the job right.…
As important to the community as The Sun’s coverge was, the respect the newspaper holds in the community and its commitment to educating its readers on the ways of the media played a crucial role in minimizing the potential for a media disaster when the story broke.
From government officials to average readers, there exists in Jonesboro a great understanding of the role of the media, the importance of getting information out to the public and the difficulties reporters face. “I credit that to John Troutt,” Bill Sandler, the media specialist for the state police, said. “There is tremendous trust in that paper.”
“If there is anything I can get violent about, it’s freedom of information and the right of the press and the public to know what’s going on,” Troutt said. “Everybody around here knows that if they try to hide something, we are going to court.…(The Sun) will sue just about every time somebody tries to keep public information secret.”
Troutt said it also is important that the newspaper carry a lot of stories about the media, their role and the way they work: “the press is very important. That makes what it does—good and bad—legitimate news.”