Report to Readers: The case of the angry letter writer
Tuesday’s Monitor will include a letter to the editor about the trial and sentencing of Jamie Locke, the woman on Saturday’s front page who was charged with beating a homeless teen and throwing him into the frigid Merrimack River in Concord several years back.
In many ways it is exactly the type of letter we love to publish: It’s short. It makes a strong point. It’s connected to big local news. And it provides a different perspective. What gave me pause about the letter was the identity of the writer.
The piece was written by Joseph Hearn. Close readers of our Locke coverage might remember his name from two recent stories. First, on Friday, we quoted him testifying on Locke’s behalf in court. But second, on Saturday, we described how he had menaced two Monitor journalists in court to cover Locke’s sentencing. As reporter Tricia L. Nadolny wrote:
“Before yesterday’s sentencing, Joseph Hearn, a friend of Locke’s who had testified about her character, threatened to assault a Monitor photographer if he took photos of the hearing. Hearn was warned by a bailiff to be on good behavior during the hearing. But Hearn continued to make comments about a Monitor reporter and photographer’s presence and was again reprimanded by the bailiff.”
My first question when Hearn’s letter arrived: Does a man who threatens a journalist trying to do his job forfeit his right to use the public forum provided by the Monitor’s letters column?
My second question: Did Hearn see no irony here?
Being a journalist in Concord is typically not dangerous duty, but this encounter left our staffers rattled. We’ve had similar conflicts over the years – sometimes necessitating the intervention of courts or the police – with readers or subjects peeved about our coverage of particular stories. More typically, angry readers threaten to come after us with their lawyers (“Take me out of your $#*^% police log, or I’ll sue!”), rather than with their fists, though even that is unsettling.
In the end, I figured Hearn deserved the right to be heard in the letters column. Encouraging folks to hash out their disagreements there, rather than in the parking lot of the courthouse, feels like a good use of our pages. You can read his letter Tuesday and see what you think.