One question: What's the price of stupidity?
It's a news reporter's basic instinct — and that of the organizations who employ them — to use the names of people accused of crimes. You see it every day in print, on TV and online.
But you haven't read the name of the alleged perpetrator of the Eagle Creek Fire in the Columbia River Gorge, which has charred tens of thousands of acres in one of Oregon's most beloved nature areas.
Once the basic facts of the fire were reported, our next inclination, of course, was to ask, "Who was this kid who is said to have started this fire?"
Though not surprising, we were told it was none of our business. We were told that law enforcement and the essential government agencies would be the only organizations that will know this kid's identity, probably ever.
That didn't sit well with some people, who were quick to point out the difference between an arrest for a smash-and-grab and a wildfire that grinds its way through the Columbia River Gorge.
But this is common turf for reporters.
Media in Oregon, and elsewhere for that matter, find it difficult to report on juvenile-involved crime. It's common for reporters to read redacted arrest reports, and to encounter denials of requests for information that involve juveniles.
That seems to go back to an acceptance that immature youths — even 15-year-olds — are not yet equipped to fully comprehend the enormous consequences of their actions. There's also a sense of mother-bear protectionism that takes place — an effort to shield these youths from being branded for life, or to protect them from people who would pursue physical vengeance.
From the media's point of view, we're stuck in an awkward position of balancing the public's right to know with this kid's right to grow into a mature adult free of fear as the target of hatred.
Responsible news outlets will always carry on an internal ethics dialogue before making a decision to report a juvenile's name: How old is the kid? How much does the kid understand about the situation? Is the kid's name already widely known? How does naming the kid benefit the greater good? Once you make the kid's identity public, how will it change his or her life?
But law enforcement and government agencies take that choice out of the hands of the media by making the decision for them, by routinely clamping down on the information that is released.
For The Outlook, we're less concerned with knowing this teen's identity, or in seeking interviews from his friends who allegedly accompanied him along the Eagle Creek Trail on Sept. 2.
We're far more interested in learning about the consequences: the price of stupidity.
While law enforcement and the criminal justice system will keep this teen's name a secret, we hope they don't undervalue the emotional cost this wildfire has caused for hundreds of thousands of "victims" across the state and the planet.
We may not need to know this kid's name, or the names of his hapless accomplices. But we do need to know how the government is holding these kids accountable for their actions.
The people who care deeply about the Columbia River Gorge won't be satisfied with a slap on the wrist. And they don't want to be kept in the dark.