Many media and journalism-school types have been following the dustup over KPLR anchor/reporter Melanie Moon's behavior while covering the Ryan Ferguson press conference earlier this week right after his release from prison. Joy Mayer at the Columbia Missourian cataloged the exchange with Moon in this Storify, so you'll need to read that first for this piece to make much sense. As Mayer has pointed out, many news outlets and twitterers are focusing on the ethical conversation around Moon hugging Ryan Ferguson and his father Bill, and taking a photograph with Ryan at the press conference. This is an interesting conversation, and the area of journalism ethics is blurry sometimes. But the more important conversation to have here really is the area that is not blurry: one about good, responsible journalism.
Just to get this out of the way briefly here, I'm going to side with the curmudgeons on the hug, and say for a variety of reasons that is unprofessional. I'm not calling for a ban on journalist hugs, but I will summarize by saying I think intention is important. Hugs for consolation can make sense in some circumstances, for celebration, not so much. I would contend that if you're doing your job right as a journalist you will already have boundaries that make interactions like this something you'll never feel comfortable with. I also will emphasize the importance of avoiding the appearance of conflict of interest, and the Society of Professional journalists would back me up on that one.
According to a press release issued Friday afternoon by Boone County Prosecutor Dan Knight, Assistant Missouri Attorney General Susan Boresi has been appointed as a special prosecutor in the Ryan Ferguson case.
Knight’s office had to request permission from a circuit court to bring in a special prosecutor, and the request was granted. In the request, Knight wrote that the appointment was needed because his office had a conflict of interest in the case because of current and former employees.
The Missouri Court of Appeals Western District announced Tuesday it is granting Ryan Ferguson habeas corpus relief, effectively vacating his conviction in the 2001 murder of Columbia Daily Tribune Sports Editor Kent Heitholt.
According to the court statement (full .pdf here), Ferguson is to be released from prison in 30 days unless the state appeals or expresses its intent to re-try Ferguson. Ferguson is serving a 40-year sentence.