From the editor: A battle worth fighting

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— In the past month, the Steamboat Pilot & Today has won two cases filed in response to attempts by the Routt County District Attorney's Office to seal documents in the Meghan McKeon case. And while we have achieved favorable rulings in court, it is apparent that when it comes to the court of public opinion, the jury is still out.

There have been those who have congratulated us on our fight to uphold the First Amendment and the Colorado Open Records Act, but there are others who have questioned why the newspaper felt it was important enough to go to court to obtain copies of McKeon’s arrest affidavit and her son’s autopsy report. In these instances, the readers said they didn’t want to know the disturbing details of Austin Davis’s death, and they interpreted our attempts to obtain the records as an example of tabloid journalism or sensationalism.

The articles about the decision by the DA’s Office to seal documents and the newspaper’s reaction have been factual and fair to all parties involved, and now that both cases have been adjudicated and the autopsy report has been released by judge’s order, I think it’s time for me, as editor, to set the record straight and offer the newspaper’s perspective on why we fight these battles.

First and foremost, it is the responsibility of news organizations and journalists everywhere to ensure elected officials and governmental bodies are adhering to open records law. We are on the front lines of this fight for open and transparent government, and we will remain diligent in fulfilling our watchdog role.

In this particular case, we witnessed the local DA’s Office attempting to withhold more and more information from the public view by requesting that public documents be sealed. This was an alarming trend that forced our hand. The district attorney is elected by the people to serve all the citizens of Routt County. In this position, he is obligated to uphold the law, and we could not stand by and watch him ignore Colorado’s open records law and our First Amendment rights.

To us, these cases were about more than just knowing all the facts, they were about championing a free press and the public’s right to know. We realize that many of our readers don’t want to know every grisly detail of a young child’s death, and with our community and readership in mind, we used discretion in the information we included in the news story we printed following the release of the autopsy report. That same news judgment was used after we received the arrest affidavit. In that case, the affidavit was a five-page document, which we condensed to a factual, well-balanced 940-word story.

Even though it was within our rights to publish the full affidavit and autopsy report in the newspaper and on our website, we chose not to do that. Again, we practiced discretion, and I think it’s important that the public know that.

At last week’s hearing, when he was announcing his decision to order the coroner to release the autopsy report, District Court Judge Michael O’Hara commented on the articles the Steamboat Pilot & Today had published on the McKeon case. He told the court that the two articles that had been submitted as evidence during the hearing did not appear to be slanted. He described the reporting as “factual” and “fair,” which is some of the highest praise a newspaper can receive.

As a newspaper, it is our role to print the facts of a news story so that people know the truth of what happened, especially in cases when we’re forced to report on unexplainable tragedy.

In the case of Austin Davis, we believe it is important for the community to know the true circumstances surrounding the death of a 3-year-old boy living in Steamboat Springs. This information allows the public to better respond to incidents of this kind and to be aware that bad things happen, even in places as idyllic as a resort town in the Colorado Rockies.

Knowing that Austin died of extreme dehydration could result in the City Council considering ordinances that require running water at any public campgrounds with long-term rentals. Or maybe, human service organizations could choose to work together to create a system to monitor the wellbeing of young children who are not involved in the school system. Or maybe a community forum is held to discuss the high cost of childcare in Routt County and brainstorm solutions.

This type of public exchange, sparked by the news that people read in their local newspapers, can foster positive change. And even the sometimes harsh public commenting that these stories spawn serves a purpose — it creates a safety valve that affords people the opportunity to vent publicly and to diffuse a more threatening vigilante justice response. Printing the truth also puts an end to the sometimes vicious public rumor mill.

All of the information we pursued was pivotal to telling the story of what happened to Austin Davis, and all of that information is vital to the public debate that surrounds tragedies like this.

We still don’t have all the answers as to why something like this happened in our community, and we may never discover those reasons, but at least, our readers now know some of the facts of what happened and can come to their own informed conclusions.

Even in the face of public criticism, the Steamboat Pilot & Today will not back down from this fight. Your newspaper remains committed to making sure the Colorado Open Records Act and the First Amendment are upheld, and it is our hope that recent court victories have served notice of that commitment.

To reach Lisa Schlichtman, call 970-871-4221, email lschlichtman@SteamboatToday.com or follow her on Twitter @LSchlichtman

Comments

john bailey 6 months, 3 weeks ago

all well and good about the First Amendment , if you believe in it so strongly how about re-instating Steve Mendell , as his rights were violated by the Pilot for banning him from these forums. complaints or no complaints , private or public , bring him back and make things fair for all, whadda say Lisa ?

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john bailey 6 months, 3 weeks ago

hi Mark , it was stated he was banned because a few on here complained about his postings. what difference does it make if this is a private web site ? I believe Mr. Mauldin was informed by the editor this was the case. Steve did not attack anyone and didn't violate any policy put up by the paper , they just acted on a few complaints. the paper is a public paper correct? paid for by advertisement , correct ? public dollars . I see no difference if we comment here or in the actual paper itself . to silence one voice because a few complained is in my opinion is a violation of his right to free speech. just read the 4th to last paragraph of the article about public exchange and the sometimes harsh public commenting that these stories spawn serves a purpose. I would like to hear from Lisa herself about this issue or at least any rep from the paper.

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Brian Kotowski 6 months, 3 weeks ago

There are no first amendment rights in this forum. Anyone who doesn't understand that either didn't read or chose to ignore the Reader Submitted Content Policy they agreed to when they signed up.

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john bailey 6 months, 3 weeks ago

I suppose your right Brian , but why have this as a public forum if we cannot speak our mind , this web site is available to all without a service fee , correct ? even if we do not agree with that person or not. perhaps a fee should be imposed if they want to control our voice , just doesn't make sense to me. a free paper to all locally yet they can shut one down by dubious complaints by a few . still waiting on Lisa ..... anyone home at the Pilot ? they champion freedom in the article yet will not allow it here, it just ain't right , ya know .....

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Brian Kotowski 6 months, 3 weeks ago

When you're in someone else's house, you don't get to pick & choose which of their rules you will observe, or dictate how they are enforced. I'll wager this forum lost the vast majority of its members when the Pilot imposed the identity disclosure requirement. If that doesn't illustrate the distinction between 'privilege' and 'right' as it applies to a platform someone other than you is paying for, nothing will. All I can suggest is that you put your money where your mouth is and launch your own forum where any and all can weigh in however they please.

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rhys jones 6 months, 3 weeks ago

I don't recall Steve being particularly abrasive or insulting; maybe brutally honest -- he sure didn't like us having fun while he sat at home fretting about paying for it. Several people more -- controversial, let's say -- continue to haunt these forums, present company included.

I can'r recall who made the entry, and I'm too lazy and unconcerned to check, but I thought I recalled a hint that Steve's complete ouster may have been caused by a misrepresentation as to who he is. Not that that stops everybody; I know at least one other alias in here.

Now if it stops raining, maybe I can get out of this hole...

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Dan Kuechenmeister 6 months, 3 weeks ago

Rhys, The disappearance of Steve M. from this forum may be one of those mysteries of the universe. I am trying to recollect if his disappearance coincided with the ill fated disappearance of Malaysia flight 370.

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rhys jones 6 months, 3 weeks ago

Ya know Dan you're RIGHT!! He could easily have been embroiled in our controversies, as he flitted about putting out fires, rescuing giganetworks of terradata nested n-levels deep (previous versions only went to b) all over the globe... they'll let Jerry contribute from wherever the Hell HE is, so why not? (kiddin' Jerry!! :-))

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rhys jones 6 months, 3 weeks ago

For lack of better forum fodder, I move that we beat this thread senseless.

The sudden and complete disappearance of Steve IS one of the world's great mysterious, thanks for pointing that out Dan, right up there with Jimmy Hoffa, Amelia Earhart, grassy knoll, structural steel, and Calvin & Hobbes. Who knows WHAT happened??

I would submit that Steve never did exist. Either he was a creation of the paper, for our enjoyment... or our collective imagination, forum-drunk with cabin fever, after a long cold winter, now swinging roundhouses... or somebody slipped something in the water supply; it did taste kinda funny there for a couple of weeks, everybody was happy, and the Record was almost dead, cops letting folks go...

Whatever it was, the Pilot ain't peeping. Ah the mystery...

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john bailey 6 months, 3 weeks ago

Rhys ,can you provide a link ? that's all anyone has to say , a link ?

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Scott Wedel 6 months, 3 weeks ago

I also heard that he was banned. But that was after being asked to follow certain rules and refusing to do so.

Heard that in an offhand manner from someone talking to me about the good and not so good in my posts.

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john bailey 6 months, 3 weeks ago

Steve Mauldin confirmed this from a reply from the editor, in the thread he was banned. I just find it odd that the paper expresses freedom in this article and yet suppresses it in their "private" web site. that's my only point

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mark hartless 6 months, 3 weeks ago

Mark is, of course, exactly right. Steve has no rights to speak in a forum owned by the Pilot...

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john bailey 6 months, 3 weeks ago

yes Mark he is correct , still a shame though . how much does it cost to start your own web site ? lol

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Bernard Gagne Jr 6 months, 3 weeks ago

Well written Lisa. I agree with you completely. As for the DA Mr. Barkey, I've seen too much of his performance, and been victim of his ill-performance. I will NOT vote for Mr. Barkey.

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Jim Kelley 6 months, 3 weeks ago

How come this story is tagged as having 16 comments but there are only 6 comments now shown?

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rhys jones 6 months, 3 weeks ago

The John Bailey comment above has 10 replies -- click on that ;-)

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Jim Kelley 6 months, 3 weeks ago

Thanks Rhys. I guess I had not seen these threads compressed before! There goes my conspiracy theory!

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rhys jones 6 months, 3 weeks ago

Yeah I hate to admit it when Da Man is right, but I have made the same mistake.

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jerry carlton 6 months, 3 weeks ago

Rhys I am in Steamboat . What are we doing inside on this beautiful day? I did do a little outside work this afternoon. Not looking well for the Rockies. Early collapse on this road trip. I almost feel like a Cub's fan.

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john bailey 6 months, 3 weeks ago

sad road trip for the boys in Purple.......2-7 , late game losses..... Hey Jerry in and out all weekend , what a day huh ? ~:0) yard is looking spiffy too bad no one can see it......HA....

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jerry carlton 6 months, 3 weeks ago

Just heard this morning next 16 games are at home. Rockies need to win 16 in a row to have any hope of catching San Fran.

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Dan Kuechenmeister 6 months, 3 weeks ago

Rhys, Jerry, John, Tulo was on cover of recent Sports Illustrated and Rockies go into slump. Now there might be a conspiracy theory. Nice article by the way.

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rhys jones 6 months, 3 weeks ago

Yeah after starting out the season blazing with the bat, now Tulo is getting whiffed again, watching Strike 3 sail by... I think they need a team shrink.

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Jeff Kibler 6 months, 3 weeks ago

Yep, the legendary Sports Illustrated Cover curse.

http://www.boston.com/sports/other_sports/gallery/02_11_10_SI_cover_jinx/

Let the conspiracy theories fly far and wide!

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john bailey 6 months, 3 weeks ago

good thing there is not a Madden baseball Xbox game or you may have a point there Dan K. jeje...Jerry I see on the schedule we have 10 home 6 away and 6 home in the next 2 plus weeks. time to make a move in these game sets or we may be toast.......2007 will never happen again , I think....~;0)at least I got that World Series game checked off the ol bucket list before I kick it....by the way does SI have big print ? all these rags have shrunk their font and I can't read em no mo......

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