Why The Register Citizen exposed the identity of student bullies

21 Mar

Due to some excellent journalism by Register Citizen reporter Jessica Glenza, Torrington, Connecticut, has become notorious across the country over the past 24 hours for a scandal involving its high school football team and widespread bullying of 13-year-old girls two 18-year-old players are accused of raping.front

While most of the outrage has been focused on the players, their bullying friends and a school district that has been slow to react to bad behavior by athletes and harassment of victims, the newspaper has been criticized by some for identifying underage students who bullied and subjecting them to national ridicule.

On its website and on the front page of its print edition, The Register Citizen printed screen shots from Twitter on Wednesday morning of Torrington athletes and other students calling a 13-year-old rape victim a “whore” and “snitch” and blaming her for “ruining the lives” of the two players.

We did not blur out the Twitter handles or profile photos of the students doing the bullying, which effectively identified them.

The result, undoubtedly, was intense embarrassment to the teens involved and their families. They said some really disgusting things, and thousands of people from all over the country and world expressed outrage as the story was published prominently in news outlets including the New York Times, New York Daily News, Washington Post, Daily Mail of London and on national blogs such as Jezebel, The Daily Dot and Think Progress, among many others.

Every Connecticut TV station and even a camera crew from CNN was in Torrington Wednesday to cover the story as parallels were drawn to the horrible case in Steubenville, Ohio, where a girl was raped by multiple football players at a party, followed by social media taunting of the victim and a significant number of students and townspeople engaging in a “blame the victim” reaction to their arrest.

Faced with a barrage of criticism (and hopefully, embarrassment and regret over what they’d said, although messages calling Register Citizen staff “snitches” and many unprintable names yesterday would indicate otherwise),  most of the students responsible for the bullying Tweets disabled their accounts quickly after the story broke Wednesday or had shifted them to “private” status.

Some accused us of subjecting these students to bullying themselves, while even those outraged at their actions sympathized over the issue of young people not understanding the ramifications of publicly posting stupid things online and the permanence of those mistakes.

a1032113We could have easily told the story, they suggested, by just “summarizing” the extent of the bullying, and quoting some of the awful things that what were said without identifying who said it.

Yes, we could have done it that way, and I’ll tell you right now, we wouldn’t be having this big local (and national) conversation about the problem.

By publishing the actual messages, we made this real in a way that writing a story about unnamed kids would not.

We gave the city, the state and the country a taste of how horrifying and uncomfortable it has been for two 13-year-old girls over the past month who can’t escape the bullying and the nasty comments whether they’re at school or online.

Vaguely summarizing this kind of bullying, identities protected, would have allowed the school district to continue to ignore the problem and the community to assume that it was “someone else’s kid.”

But the fact is that “good kids,” from “good homes,” honor roll students, athletes, male, female, participated in this stuff, and showed a fundamental and staggeringly dangerous misunderstanding about rape, consent and how to treat other people.

If we hadn’t identified the bullies, this would have been dismissed by the school district and the community as “just a few bad apples.” In fact, that’s exactly how Torrington High School Athletic Director Mike McKenna and School Superintendent Cheryl Kloczko tried to dismiss it right up until the night before Jessica’s story showed everyone that it was more than that.

And in an outrageous failure to understand the need for an urgent community conversation around this problem, Kloczko and Torrington Board of Education Chairman Ken Traub used “student confidentiality” as an excuse to remain silent on the topic yesterday.

We don’t have to be another Steubenville, in part because there are local journalists like Jessica Glenza and her editors at The Register Citizen who are drawing attention to the problem and refusing to be complicit in the school district’s attempts to withhold information as a shield for their own failure to act.

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40 Responses to “Why The Register Citizen exposed the identity of student bullies”

  1. GoRegisterCitizen March 21, 2013 at 8:07 am #

    Amen! Those children SHOULD be ashamed at what they have done. And sadly, judging by what I witnessed on twitter yesterday, they have NOT learned their lesson and do not even feel they have done anything wrong. That sense of entitlement apparently runs deeper than we thought…and is being reinforced by their parents and a disgustingly irresponsible school administration. Don’t stop reporting this! It deserves all the attention it can get! Thank you Register Citizen!

  2. dave March 21, 2013 at 9:04 am #

    Listen, I have been reading your rag of a paper for some years now and can only surmise this one thing about this case. The article, while well written, has gone too far in it’s “articulation”of this story in hopes of getting yourself national attention. You are doing this not for the readers right to know but for readership and bottom line, notoriety. This story has similarities to another stupid, pathetic screwed up case where children, who committed a horrible crime and who apparently have not received any parenting or proper direction whatsoever!! This whole “scandal” your causing is about the crime itself, not about the ethics of a local newspaper publishing the tweets of a few mean little brats about the victim. If the school knew about the pending charges and allowed one of them to play, shame on them. Stop sensationalizing the news for a few bucks. Report the news as it comes and inquire about things that matter, like the governor trying to strip more of our rights, and our money. How about getting the facts from the THS rape case? Oh I forgot the case is probably sealed so hey, lets embarrass a bunch of mean little miscreants twittering?

    • mattderienzo March 21, 2013 at 9:20 am #

      I think you underestimate the significance of what these Tweets exposed … Widespread bullying and fundamental misunderstanding of the seriousness of statutory rape and consent.

      • zach March 21, 2013 at 12:46 pm #

        wasn’t this article about the posting of the tweets, not the details of the rape case? Maybe your opinion was formed before you started reading.

      • Bill W March 22, 2013 at 7:51 am #

        I’ll point out the New York Times didn’t feel the need to print the twitter handles. This entire thing reeks of low yellow hack behavior, and you should be ashamed.

    • GoRegisterCitizen March 21, 2013 at 9:40 am #

      So…a small-town local news station has the balls to report and expose the truth about a situation that nobody has yet to take notice of, and they should stop? Why?

      Those “miscreants” are not young children. Some of them are 18 years old and about to enter into this world as adults, maybe have children of their own. It is disgusting and disconcerting, to say the least, that even when exposed for their actions, not one of them apologized or showed any remorse. Instead, they fought and defended their actions. If I didn’t already believe they deserved to be embarrassed and held accountable for these actions, their flippant and disrespectful attitudes about it AFTER being exposed makes me believe it all the more.

      In the obvious absence of good parenting and upstanding role models at school, maybe a little social pressure to think before you act next time is what will keep these miscreants from doing something stupid in the future.

    • DaveJ March 22, 2013 at 7:50 am #

      Dave clearly has no understanding of the brutality of bullying victims of rape.

  3. Concerned March 21, 2013 at 9:18 am #

    While I appreciate what you are trying to do by exposing the huge problem of cyber bullying, I feel The Register Citizen could lead by example by removing the sound off and comments section from their daily publication. While certainly not as horrific as the bullying of a victim, the daily comments by the same group of posters fall into the same category. The commenters berate each other and call each other names, and yet you publish them day after day. It’s hard to take the moral high ground when you foster that environment on your own site.

    • mattderienzo March 21, 2013 at 9:19 am #

      Fair point.

      • DaveJ March 22, 2013 at 7:49 am #

        Agreed. Kill off Sound Off. I am guilty of losing it there myself as I feel compelled to counter the idiocy and hatred of the “usual suspects” who live to post there.

      • THS grad who cares about Ttown March 22, 2013 at 9:12 am #

        I think these actions and the things said on Twitter by students are heinous, and as a recent THS grad I’m glad the Register Citizen is exposing the culture of bullying and glorification of bad behavior in Torrington schools. That said, 15 – 17 year olds have poor judgment and its important to use this as a lesson to others to think about the impact of their words, but when publicly shaming these kids by posting their Twitter handles we need to recognize that their attitudes are mainly a reflection of the school system and their parents.

      • THS grad who cares about Ttown March 22, 2013 at 9:26 am #

        Apologies in advance for the length but a trusted friend encouraged me to post. Frankly, it’s hard to watch you take the moral high ground when day after day all I see on your site is attention given to the worst elements of Torrington, including young people who involved in drugs and criminal activities. They are a minority part of a town that I’m proud to say (after living elsewhere) has an amazingly large group of dedicated people of all ages who care deeply for it and take pride in working to make it a better place against odds. For years, people who care about Torrington have been begging your paper to pay an equal amount of attention and devote the same number of bold headlines to these people who we should be proud of,and who represent role models for our youth. There have been some token efforts, but no real commitment.
        I believe you published those twitter handles not out of concern for eliminating ignorance and bullying (if you cared about that, Sound Off wouldn’t exist, by your own admission), but because the association with Steubenville will sell and will get the Register Citizen name in the New York papers. So please, stop pretending that this wasn’t in a large part self-serving and start becoming a more active part of the solution. Stop teaching young people that their criminal activity warrants a front page story, but the honor roll or band awards or Eagle Scout projects are page 5. Allowing the negative elements to dominate the conversation and the reputation of the town encourages Torrington youth to think of themselves as “raggies” rather than full of potential. Eventually, this is going to do nothing but hurt your business as it contributes to seriously damaging the long-term economic well-being of the town.
        Let’s shine a bigger spotlight on THS grads who have become successful and are now finding ways to return to help the community (there are some). How about shining a bigger light on the top reputation of the band and the successes of the students it graduates or on the well-known educators that give 200% to the school system and have for 10, 15, 25 years? How about shining a bigger light on the problems that families are facing in Torrington, and on the non-profit working to solve them? Kids here need to hear about the positive. They need to know they can make a difference, no matter who they are and where they’re from. They need to see attention paid to people showing care for others. Please, use these really sad events as an opportunity to make a bigger commitment to making a real, long-lasting difference in a place I’m proud (despite everything) to call my hometown.

      • IOU May 11, 2013 at 9:45 pm #

        Sound Off is steeped in Torrington legend print and radio. It’s great.

  4. Michael March 21, 2013 at 9:25 am #

    Short answer: they deserved it and it was the only way they would stop, or learn.

  5. Beth March 21, 2013 at 9:37 am #

    Good for you. Bullies depend on the complicit silence of others. Pick up the rock and expose them to the light of day.

  6. To March 21, 2013 at 11:14 am #

    You shouldn’t have to justify this at all. They posted on a public website (twitter). Anyone could see it. You didn’t invade their privacy, they posted it and now they have to take responsibility for what they said.

    • grimmwerks March 23, 2013 at 2:17 am #

      Exactly my point too – they weren’t anonymous in there messages; they put them into a public forum and then can’t cry if attention is made. Just like I’m doing here.

  7. Marley Tellier March 21, 2013 at 2:00 pm #

    Any story that exposes crimes made against our children needs to be exposed. What’s wrong with those who disagree about the register allowing the parents to be in the know? Those boys are well deserving of the publicity to shame them and the parents who are certiantly not parenting. And exposing the hateful tweeters is needed so the parents are aware of who are the bad apples living in our town. Excellent job in showing our town who the bad apples are. And to the torrington high school…..shame on you for trying to cover up crimes like this…

  8. Luke March 21, 2013 at 3:19 pm #

    I say Bravo for naming these bullies.

  9. mcpam3@aol.com March 21, 2013 at 3:32 pm #

    Nicely written and thoughtful piece Matt – and of course a great story!

    Sent from my HTC Inspire™ 4G on AT&T

  10. Trisha March 21, 2013 at 5:26 pm #

    GREAT job by the Register Citizen, up to and including the naming of the bullies involved. Bullying has got to stop, and one way to stop a bully is by public outing, hands down. I say Congratulations to the reporter and the paper, as do many people I have spoken to about this. Finally and Thank God!!

  11. whaydasy March 21, 2013 at 6:32 pm #

    I am glad you exposed that even the high honor students were involved. Ethics is not an a high IQ score. When I complained about bullying back years ago the guy principal brushed it off, but then the bullies were the over achievers. Parents teach your children

  12. Tim C March 21, 2013 at 6:51 pm #

    Thank you RC,

  13. Heather (@WrongImpression) March 21, 2013 at 8:19 pm #

    Excellent job! These punks should absolutely NOT be able to hide behind the perceived anonymity of the internet.

  14. Ed March 21, 2013 at 11:22 pm #

    Expose these rotten kids for what they are…bullies. I hope they get suspended, lose scholarships, etc. Totally disgusting.

  15. rosemary marinelli March 22, 2013 at 2:29 am #

    Well in all this is the female victims. they have no anonymity. they have been outed. i pray for them that they can b strong enough to endure the tough road ahead. my prayers to the parents as well.

  16. Pauly B March 22, 2013 at 7:37 am #

    Well done, Register Citizen! If the parents and officials keep ignoring this problem shame on them. Also we need to put our support behind the new football coach, he has an uphill climb.

  17. Farfel March 22, 2013 at 7:46 am #

    Bravo, RC, bravo. You served the purpose of journalism.

  18. A.B. Fab March 22, 2013 at 7:48 am #

    Good for exposing them. Unchallenged, Little Hitlers become Big Hitlers.

  19. PsiCop March 22, 2013 at 6:48 pm #

    Although I’ve been known to knock the Register Citizen for some of its coverage, I applaud you for doing this. If the vile comments had been reported without any indication as to who said them, everyone would be able to disown them (“No one I know would say that!”) and the point … which is how vile people can be, and that some of those vile people can even be one’s neighbors, friends or family … would have been lost.

    Besides, these people originally posted their atrociousness publicly. They now have no rational reason to expect that their remarks should be be kept anonymous. They said it, and they meant it when they said it. Therefore, they now need to own up to it and accept the consequences of having said it.

    One last thing: I agree with other commenters who’ve said that “Sound Off” really has to go, and that comments to articles need to be reined in. “Sound Off” is just a waste of space and is useless. And a lot of comments are just as bad. This incident is a lesson in civility, and we all need to learn some. Let the RC begin by helping to promote it, here in northwestern Connecticut.

  20. Mina March 23, 2013 at 3:24 am #

    It was a brave and great thing to do. A big kudos to Jessica Glenza and everyone who let her publish her honest words. Now why do the bullies not say the things they always say: THEY BROUGHT IT UPON THEMSELVES. Had not they shared photos on sites, had not they insulted someone publicly and online, now they would not have had their names all over the news. Bullying is a crime by the way.

  21. kimynot March 23, 2013 at 11:47 am #

    The students who have allegedly committed rape, are students who happen to play a sport. To refer to them as athletes or football players or even stars, we elevate their status, just as our culture elevates the status of professional athletes. These professional athletes often participate in questionable behavior and are considered role models none the less. No wonder we are raising children who think this behavior is acceptable.
    Let’s not forget that the saddest part of this is: these are all children, both the victims and the perpetrators of the alleged rape and bullying. We are the parents and community charged with raising our children; and we have to continue to work to help them. Comments like ” those rotten kids” referring to bullying children, is just adult bullying of the misbehaving children. It does no good. We, as parents and the community, bear the responsibility for the actions of these children. They simply act out what has been modeled and taught by the adult culture. If we want to change the actions of our children we must change our own actions and Be The Person We Would Like Our Children To Grow Up To Be. Parents must be more vigilant. You cannot expect the school system to be your child’s parent. The schools’ main responsibility is to teach your children academics. It is near impossible for the school to police cyber bullying. That is your job as a parent. It can and should be expected that the school system will take steps to prevent bullying that happens during the school day to provide a safe environment for their students. But, until parents say, “Yes, I see, my child has participated in bullying”, and take serious steps to intervene, then the bullying is not going to stop.

  22. Mh March 24, 2013 at 11:24 am #

    The Register Citizen did the right thing in the best traditions of exposing wrongs that the powerful ignore or deny. The Press in general seems to have forgotten its role of exposing truth to power.

  23. Dan March 25, 2013 at 9:32 am #

    I just find it ironic that the law would prevent the Register-Citizen (or any newspaper) from printing the name of a 17-year-old charged with sexual assault, but the paper identifying 14- 17 year-olds is good journalism? I know the tweets are public records, so legally it’s fair game. Did the teen tweeters deserve it? Yes!. The tweets were disgusting and sad But was it good journalism? I would go that far either. It’s so easy to create fake accounts on any social network (just ask Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o). Did the newspaper make any effort to verify names and identities. Again, not saying the kids / bullies didn’t deserve it. But I can’t give the Register-Citizen points for investigative journalism. either. Maybe the ends justify the means .. I really don’t know. I guess there’s just no way to feel good about any element of this story. I feel sick for the victims, angry at the students who attacked the victims over social media … and confused about what to think about the Register Citizen. Seems like they went beyond reporting here and became judges … in this case that may be what’s needed–and maybe good will come from this (or kids will just learn to use fake photos and names).

  24. IOU March 31, 2013 at 9:42 pm #

    This was terribly illegally wrong what the Register Citizen has done to my community. Please stay home. You may have your day in court. Fire AD.

  25. Ellen October 13, 2013 at 11:43 am #

    It’s a catch 22 on wheter to expose bullies by publicly displaying their names. I read in one of the comments, that people who do are, in fact, bullying the bully. But, I think that bullies of all ages should be publicly exposed if their behaviour does not stop. By exposing them for what they are (bullies), they might have an incentive to stop. One day all of these child bullies will grow up and hopefully want to be gainfully employed. What if an employer saw someone’s name on the bully register and decides to not hire them, or decides to reprimand an employee who ends up the bully register. If a bully is on a school sport team or extra curricular activities, then they should be banned from all activities until they take full responsibility and understand the present and future consequences of their actions.

    I was bullied all throughout grade school and high school by some of the same kids as well as a teacher. I find it interesting how the tables have turned in some cases. Some of them are losers and can’t hold down a job. Do you think that I will ever help them if our paths cross again. Definitely not!! So it does bring up another separate issue, why should people be rewarded for bad behaviour? What about denying someone government benefits, i.e. welfare because they are bullies. It may be harsh, but it would be a start to giving them a wake up call that the way they treat people is unacceptable an must stop.

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