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Shop Talk is a weekly panel discussion about journalism issues. This week’s program featured Will Buss, who teaches in the Department of Broadcasting and Journalism at Western Illinois University and advises the student editors at the Western Courier, the students at student radio station The Dog, and the WIU chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists; Rajvee Subramanian, who teaches in the Department of Broadcasting and Journalism at Western Illinois University; and TSPR News Director Rich Egger.

Checking Somebody Else’s Mail to Get the Story

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A young reporter was recently told to look in the mailbox of a home where news was happening to find out who lived there.

The reporter felt uncomfortable doing so even though it only involved looking at the name on the envelope. He ultimately did not look at the mail.

The reporter is a former student of Shop Talk panelist Jasmine Crighton and sent her a text about the incident.  At the time, Crighton recommended the reporter not look at the mail. She later learned the USPS considers it a crime for anyone other than a postal worker to either put mail in a mailbox or remove it (with the exception of the resident).

Crighton said she asked students in one of her classes if they would look at someone’s mail to get information for a story. The majority said they would if their boss asked them – though they would be uncomfortable doing it.

Panelist Rich Egger said he would not do it because so much could go wrong. For example, the mail could be for someone who has moved away, or it might be improperly addressed.  He would check with neighbors and with authorities to get the information.

Panelist Rich Moreno said it’s up to each reporter to decide whether they’re willing to take such an action – and he acknowledged some are willing to do so. But he feels journalists should hold themselves to higher standards and follow a code of ethics.

Moreno said early in his career he was asked to misrepresent himself.  He couldn’t do it so another reporter was given the assignment.  That person misrepresented himself, got the story, and was lauded in the newsroom for being an enterprising reporter.

Rich is TSPR's News Director.