N.C. newspaper editor to tell story of covering Duke lacrosse case

By Kelley Apoldo

When three Duke University lacrosse players were wrongly charged with rape, the case attracted intense national media coverage and analysis. One focal point in the controversy was the town’s local newspaper, the Durham Herald-Sun, which received national praise and criticism for its reports on the case.

Bob Ashley, editor of the Herald-Sun since January 2005, is presenting “The Kaleidoscopic Narratives of the Duke Lacrosse Case” at 4 p.m. today in the W.T. Young Library Auditorium. The event is free and open to the public.

Ashley, former editor of the Messenger-Inquirer in Owensboro, Ky., will speak on how the narrative evolved over time in relation to issues of race, power, the media, the judicial system and the town-gown relationship in Durham, N.C.

“I think it has made all of us here even more cautious about accusations and charges in the criminal justice system,” Ashley said.

The Herald-Sun worked to help open lines of communication among the media, the public and people related to the case when the controversy first surfaced in March 2006, Ashley said. Charges were dropped 18 months later, and the case left a lasting mark on the school as well as the community, he said.

“I think the community was more than a little shell-shocked at the intensity and duration of national coverage that the case has received,” Ashley said.

The negative and often over-simplified portrayals of the community left its members “more than a little resentful,” he said.

Throughout the last year, Ashley has tried to help the community confront lingering societal issues and questions revealed by the case, he said.

The Wendell H. Ford Public Policy Research Center is sponsoring Ashley’s speech. The event offers students a unique chance to hear a firsthand account from someone close to the case, said Tracy Campbell, a history professor and co-director of the center.

Students can also ask Ashley questions about mistakes and successes made throughout the coverage of the case, Campbell said.

“Future journalists and prosecutors have much to learn from what happened in Durham,” he said. “And we hope this discussion will challenge students to explore their own biases and assumptions about a host of issues in case they find themselves in a similar position one day.”