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February 9, 2011 - Jodelle Greiner
“A matter of public record.”
Reporters use this phrase a lot, but there’s some confusion about what it actually means.
Some people seem to think that “public record” can only be accessed by reporters and our magic press passes. After more than 20 years in this profession, I’ve found the only thing a press pass is good for is getting me into events free — and since I’m working, that’s only fair, isn’t it?
No, public record is just that, for the public and open to the public. But the public doesn’t seem to realize this.
We get a lot of phone calls from people begging us to not print that they got a speeding ticket or some other minor legal infraction. We also get calls from people threatening us if we print they were charged with more serious crimes.
We run into this quite often; people seem to think that if it doesn’t get printed in the paper no one will know about it. Trust me, they’ll know. If they want to find out about you, they can get the information.
College admissions personnel know how to operate google.com. So do people who decide who to hire for jobs. They don’t have to find it in a newspaper, they can access the official records at the courthouse.
Instead of being scared of this, I think the public should learn to turn this to their advantage.
There are some pieces of information that are available to anyone just for the asking: marriages, divorces, land purchases, death records, and criminal records, just to name a few.
I was working at a newspaper in Texas when I got a call from this guy who was upset that we’d run the fact that his divorce was final. We ran a lot of divorces, so I didn’t understand why printing his should upset him. After talking to him a while, he let slip the fact that he hadn’t told his fiancee’ he was married. Bet that put a kink in setting the wedding date! I’ve often wondered for how much longer she stayed his fiancee’.
If that gal had checked up on this guy, it could have saved her a lot of trouble. You don’t need to hire a private investigator, just take some time and go through some records.
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