A Magazine by the Society of Professional Journalists


By Quill

Reporting on trash raises community stink

The Willamette Week, an alternative paper in Portland, Ore., has been publishing garbage.

A recent reporting trip left two journalists going through the trash of local officials and has left many readers and locals asking if the move is ethical – or even legal. Portland Mayor Vera Katz has threatened to bring legal action against the paper.

The Portland police were the first to rummage through trash as they looked into possible drug use by Officer Gina Hoesly. Officers found traces of illegal drugs during the investigation, and they used that as evidence to procure a search warrant for Hoesly’s house. Drug paraphernalia and a diary describing drug use leading to an indictment against her in June were found.

But according to a recent ruling, garbage seizure is illegal. (An appeal is pending.) Portland Police Chief Mark A. Kroeker, asked if garbage searches are an invasion of privacy, told the Willamette Week that garbage becomes public property after it is placed on the street.

Following the police’s lead, reporters Chris Lydgate and Nick Budnick staked out the homes of Kroeker, Katz and Multnomah County District Attorney Michael D. Schrunk. The two went through garbage and recycling bins at each person’s home, and included the findings in a Dec. 24 story. No illegal substances or evidence of wrongdoing were found, but the reporters did reveal that Chief Kroeker is a failed dieter.

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