Free Press editor: Our front page missed the mark. We are committed to doing better.

Hello reader,

The Free Press published a front page on Sept. 15 that offended some of you, and I am sorry for any distress it caused.

The page had a prominent headline stating, “How BPD uses force in non-arrest situations.” That headline sat below a file photograph of Sgt. Tom Nash whom we had accompanied on a patrol shift several years earlier.

Though the photograph was captioned as a file photo, a number of you emailed us to point out Nash’s image paired with the headline implied something negative about the 20-year veteran officer’s conduct. Nash has never improperly used force, according a review of personnel records by Burlington Police Deputy Chief Matt Sullivan . 

The story to which the headline belongs analyzed 2019 incident reports for each time Burlington police used force to take someone into custody. The Free Press obtained these reports by successfully challenging a records request denial, and we felt that the information they contained was of public concern, especially in light of the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others. 

The problem of illustrating the story occurred because the story was based on data gleaned for those incident reports. There were was no obvious person to photograph as a visual component of the story. We added several file photos of officers going about their patrol duty, and Nash’s photo was among those. The text and all the photos were forwarded for print production, which is our standard process of first packaging stories for online and later sending them for print design. Unfortunately, we failed to recognize the problematic nature of placing the image of Nash on the front page.

We have reviewed your complaints and understand that, while unintended, the page was harmful. We have talked about how to avoid including pictures in stories that could unfairly imply that the photo subject had participated in something improper. Your feedback has made us more aware of the sensitivity and care we must take in selecting images to go with controversial stories.

Thank you for putting in the effort to make us better.

Yours,

Emilie

Previous column from the editor: Let’s talk about standards and ethical conduct

Contact Emilie Stigliani at 802-660-1897 or estigliani@gannett.com. Follow on Twitter: @EmilieStigliani.

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