Editorial: The human comedy’s front-row seat

In days not too distant a well-bred Virginia gentleman’s name would appear in the local newspaper no more than three times during his life: birth announcement, wedding announcement and obituary. A lady, if a debutante, was allowed a fourth mention. In today’s world of Facebook, reality TV and endless self-promotion, such notions seem “so, so old school.”

But the logic behind this now seemingly quaint admonition is still firmly grounded in a certain reality: It often seems like bad news indeed when people discover their own names in this or any other newspaper, for the surest way to gain such unwanted publicity is arrest and trial, or any other legal action that occurs in an open hearing at the courthouse.

An old friend and Rappahannock native, with probably too much time on his hands, asserts that some of his most thought-provoking times have been spent in the Rappahannock County courthouse – not as a litigant or defendant, but as a disinterested observer. There the human comedy is on full display.

Long before the much-lamented blurring of the boundary between news and entertainment in today’s media, any sensitive courtroom observer was well aware that this boundary was pretty porous to begin with. So it is that the Rappahannock News may at times seem somewhat sensational – more like a Rupert Murdock tabloid than the “all the news that’s fit to print” of that old gray lady known as the New York Times.

But we’re just doing our job – as the readers’ representative and recorder in the courthouse. About these stories, often we here at the newspaper know the details well before they play out in the courtroom, but we don’t issue any reports at that point, even if it involves would-be local celebrities. That would be tantamount to gossip.

Once in the public record at the courthouse, however, that’s news, by any definition.

Walter Nicklin