Von Pinnon: We debated including motorcyclist's driving history
When reporting the news, what to include as background information is often debated and can be highly controversial.
A week ago, 24-year-old Tanner Beighley was killed when his motorcycle collided with a car in south Fargo. The Forum published a short story on the fatal crash. It's not clear yet who was at fault but it was a tragedy for all involved.
The next day, when police released Tanner's name, we ran it through our archives, a standard practice to try to learn more about the person so we can relay such info to our readers. A story from last year popped up, when Tanner was cited for driving his cycle 140 mph in a 75-mile zone about two miles from where last week's fatal crash occurred. Court records also showed Tanner was convicted of 15 traffic violations, including speeding, exhibition driving, following too closely, failing to yield and disregarding a stop sign.
Editors debated whether to include that information in the crash followup story as well as whether it was too soon to introduce such information for the sake of sensitivity.
Ultimately, we did decide to publish the information in the followup story and doing so upset some readers, including many street cycle riders, who felt we were trying to make motorcyclists as a whole appear reckless.
We were not trying to make motorcyclists look reckless. Tanner's driving record was not typical of a 24-year-old motorcyclist or motorcycle riders in general. Had he been cited for a few minor traffic violations, we likely would not have included that background. His driving record stood out.
Further inspection of his Facebook page prominently revealed the life of a man who enjoyed going fast and taking great risks with his motorcycle. His mother later confirmed that with us while sharing other parts of his life that made him special.
I come from a family of race car drivers—Formula 4 drivers in particular. My dad and uncle raced for decades. I grew up around it every weekend in the warm months. On rare occasions, these same tracks hosted motorcycle races when we were there. Those races were especially exhilarating to watch. So fast, so dangerous.
I had an off-road motorbike that got me around the racetrack infield. I often pretended I was in one of those motorcycle races, but I never did make the leap. Too risky, I thought.
Racers know the risks of their sport. The difference, of course, is that everyone racing on a closed course is there out of choice. Public streets are different.
It's true we don't yet know whether Tanner was at fault in his fatal crash. That's a fair point in arguing that such background information could have been withheld, at least for a time. When the investigation becomes public, we'll certainly reveal what it found.
But with motorcycle season in full swing, we thought reporting what we knew about this man's tragic death and driving history was important for everyone who shares the road.