Unpublishable

We had some breaking news happen Thursday morning. Word came to the newsroom that the track coach at Bozeman High School was arrested for sexual abuse of children and obscenity.

Police say James M. Evans, 29, had been sexting with a 15-year-old girl and at least two other girls at the school. His bail was set at $50,000, and Evans could face 100 years in prison if he’s convicted.

Normally in such a case, we’d publish the charging documents along with our full story. Posting public documents not only gives readers a glimpse into our reporting process but also makes it — we’d like to think — that the public will actually see the documents created by its governments.

However, the managing editor decided in this case not to post the affidavit online. Normally, I’m fairly bullish about putting “Web Extras” on the Chronicle site, but after reading the document, I agree with the decision.

The affidavit was eye-popping.

It contained the exact words of text messages that Evans allegedly sent to the teenage girls. Almost every one of them used words and phrases that would have made George Carlin pause.

There are some who might say that a news organization should not be squeamish about putting the public’s documents out there for public consumption. I would urge those people to head down to the court clerk’s office and ask for the affidavit themselves.

A news organization’s job is to exercise editorial discretion, to take the raw facts and turn them into something that will inform and educate the public. If we can remain with within the bounds of good taste, so much the better.

The truth is, reading the sordid details of Evans’ alleged text messages will not add greatly to the public’s understanding of the facts.´╗┐┬áSensationalism may sell papers and garner Web traffic, but it’s ethics are questionable.