The recent wave of exonerations around country, which, based on new DNA findings soon may include a case in Maine, brings to mind an accepted journalism practice I’d like to see changed.

It’s the way in which people who have been found guilty of a crime often are identified.

For example, in two recent stories by the same media outlet, the subject was identified in one as “convicted killer Dennis Dechaine,” and in the other as “Dennis Dechaine, convicted of killing Sarah cherry in 1988”?

I believe the two approaches differ substantively in connotation, a difference that’s especially important in a contested case such as this one.

While it is true that Dechaine was convicted of the crime, some believe it may not be true that he committed it. To identify him as “convicted killer” leaves no room for that possibility, and it may well serve as a hidden, if unintentional, persuader that influences the reader’s or listener’s perception of him.

I ask that your reporters and commentators consider a general policy change in how they identify people convicted of a crime, a change that allows for the possibility that we’ve got the wrong guy.

Bob MacLaughlin


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