OK, this is one of those "what would you do, and why?" scenarios.
My hometown newspaper, The Virginian-Pilot, has a short article online today about the death of a man who used to be the general manager of the dominant local TV station.
By all accounts Mario Hewitt was a nice guy and well liked at WVEC-TV, Hampton Roads, Virginia's ABC affliate, the station he managed.
Hewitt died of cancer recently in Houston, where he'd moved in the late 1990s after resigning his job at WVEC.
The short story in the Pilot identifies Hewitt, quotes former colleagues saying he was a great guy, mentions his resignation back in the day....and mentions that while he cited "personal reasons" for resigning, he had been charged with DUI two weeks prior to resigning.
A reader commenting on the story scolded the Pilot and said they should have left out the DUI part and that the story would have still been "truthful" without it.
Since the day I started reporting full-time 12 years ago - almost 13 - readers have asked me: "Why did you leave such-and-such out of your article?" or "Why did you include this?"
In a blog post a few days ago, I used as an example a story about an article I wrote last fall, in which I mentioned that a neighborhood hotel had been visited by police more than 300 times last year.
One blog friend who commented on that post expressed sadness for the hotel owner whom my blog friend apparently believed had succumbed to the economy and was struggling to maintain the place.
But the truth is the hotel owner didn't succumb to the economy. The hotel has been overrun by prostitutes and Johns and drug dealers and abusers for upwards of 10 years. And the owner? She still lives in luxury in a wealthy community less than 10 miles aways and has rebuffed repeated police efforts to force her to clean the place up.
My point in explaining the hotel story further is there was no way for my blog friend to know there was more to the story than simply a failing hotel, if I didn't include it. There's always a back story, always something else that could be added to explain a scenario, or that could be left out.
When it comes to writing about people's deaths, I confess I used to be the biggest chicken, always that person who only reluctantly included details of the dead person's past indiscretions - unless, of course, those indiscretions define that person. If John Doe is a nice but plain guy his whole life, a devout church deacon, until at age 50 he decides to become a porn star or he decides to convert to Satanism and begin biting the heads off of goats, trust me. I'm gonna include that goat biting or porno in John Doe's obit. And if his friends and neighbors don't like it, they're gonna have to deal. Biting goats and doing porn may not be crimes, but when they're out of character for a person they become memorable.
The other exception, of course, is when you're writing about a dead person who committed a terrible crime or multiple crimes. You have to include that stuff.
When I first started reporting, I had an editor who would read every obit I wrote - fortunately, I only had to write a few before moving on to writing mostly about living people and people who died as crime victims, not from natural causes - and would ask "So what, this person was perfect?"
Then we'd do a dance in which I'd groan about feeling awkward about writing ill of the dead. And he'd parry my steps by arguing that if what good we do helps define us, then what bad we do helps define us too....even if it's one-time bad or just a smidgen of bad.
Eventually, he convinced me and I stopped fighting it. But to this day I still get that question: Why did you have to include that in your story?
You tell me. Don't tell me what you'd do if you were a journalist. Tell me what you think as a reader. Include the deceased gentleman's DUI, or leave it out? Why?