Jim Pumarlo wrote a weekly columnas editor at the Red Wing (Minn.) Republican Eagle. His column was recognized in the Minnesota Newspaper Association's annual Better Newspaper Contest as a consistent winner in the category for "best explanation of news operations or ethics." He received the Minnesota News Council's first "Accountability Award" in 2000.
"How can you not win? Jim Pumarlo's columns provide readers with information vital to understanding the policies, ethics, standards and content of this newspaper. It's well-written, informative and enlightening - especially so for readers interested in the 'behind the scenes' thinking that editors do every day. It's a good column. It might be something my newspaper 'creates' in the future."
-- Judge's comments Minnesota Newspaper Association Better Newspaper Contest, 2000-01 Best Explanation of Newspaper Operations or Newspaper Ethics, first place
"More papers should adopt this policy. You're not afraid to admit an error in judgment - something that goes a long way toward building readers' trust."
-- Judge's comments Minnesota Newspaper Association Better Newspaper Contest, 1997-98 Best Explanation of Newspaper Operations or Newspaper Ethics, first place
Red Wing Republican Eagle
Feb. 10, 2000
Did the Republican Eagle overstep its bounds in reporting on the police raid of an apparent methamphetamine lab in Mazeppa last week?
A reader took the Feb. 2 report to task in People's Platform last Friday. He commented, in part, "I thank you for making available to residents — especially the youth of Red Wing — this excellent investment opportunity. Who'd have thought that for just $150 and a little fertilizer off the farm, I could make $2,000 in just two hours work? Why would anyone want to raise cows? And we're providing a needed service. After all, as the article stated, meth is the drug of choice."
This newspaper has a responsibility to inform the public about serious issues, especially those that can affect health and safety. But we acknowledge there also is a fine line regarding how much information is presented. The reader's call is a reminder that we continually review how we address such subjects as alcohol and drug abuse.
We believe that in this case the article played a role in educating residents on the dangers of this drug and its growing presence in our communities. In hindsight, the article could have gone further in detailing the health hazards of using "meth."
We're not alone in our assessment. We used the reader's comments as a springboard to quiz professionals in the business of drug counseling and enforcement.
Josh Ritchie, social worker at Red Wing High School, said he viewed the news story as an opportunity to be proactive and offer education on the subject.
"It's important to have the dialogue," he said, as opposed to being in denial about the fact that meth labs are a problem here. Ritchie challenged the suggestion that the newspaper report could lead youths to make methamphetamine. In reality, he said, kids can log onto the Internet and find out just about anything — from making bombs to chemicals.
Ann Swanson, nurse for Red Wing Schools, said she doubted the article would motivate kids to experiment with the drug; youths inclined to do so aren't seeking information from the R-E.
"I think it helps warn the parents that they should watch for this," Swanson said.
She also pointed to the public safety issue — that meth labs pose tremendous fire hazards due to the chemical fumes and heat sources used including small burners and propane torches.
Swanson compared the reader's criticism of reporting about drug labs to those people who are critical of the school's sex education program. They charge that teaching sex education only encourages promiscuity.
Chet Maddox, environmental health director for Goodhue County, viewed the report from the perspective of public safety.
"It's not only an issue of breaking the law by making drugs, but it's also a safety issue for those in the area," he said. Meth labs are a fire hazard. "It goes to a bigger issue."
Eric Armstrong, Goodhue County chief deputy, also endorsed efforts to provide information about the increasingly easy access to methamphetamine. People must be made aware of the dangers.
"Unfortunately, meth has become a drug of choice among young people," he said. Yet most young people have no idea of the damaging effects of the drug.
There is a point at which newspaper reports could go too far, he said — such as offering specific recipes to make the drug.
At the same time, Armstrong questioned whether the report went far enough. When discussing methamphetamine, it's important to explain fully the harshness and the danger of the chemical to those individuals who use it.
Knowledge vs. ignorance
In the final analysis, he said, knowledge is power — no matter what the subject. "The more you know, the better off you are," Armstrong said. "Unfortunately, some people believe that ignorance is best."
The reader's reaction did not surprise Armstrong. He'll often be challenged by parents about the amount of information he provides during presentations on drugs to youths.
"You shouldn't go into anything without proper knowledge," he said. "At least then you can make an educated decision."