What Patch Considered in Covering the Izumizaki Tragedy

The death of James Izumizaki, following the public allegations against him, is a time for Patch and its readers to reflect.

As a tragedy unfolded the past week in Albany, school district officials, police, parents and the media were faced with decisions about how to communicate allegations against middle school teacher James Izumizaki.

Albany Unified School District administrators alerted police and parents. The Albany Police Department arrested the 28-year-old teacher on suspicion of committing a lewd act upon a former student, a minor under 14. Parents discussed the matter with their children. And Albany Patch wrote about the arrest.

As news spread Monday that Izumizaki was dead, a possible suicide victim, some Albany Patch readers questioned whether the media had been too quick to publish the allegations and whether the site’s readers had been appropriate in discussing the case.

Commenter Colleen O’Neill wrote, “Will you now come here & tell the kids why it was your business? Or the Patch's business?” Someone identified as “Resident” wrote, “I am deeply disgusted with the way things have been handled on here.” Reader Brian Parsley wrote, "Albany Patch is a online local newspaper and unfortunately along with garage sales, lost kittens, and other fluff stories they sometimes have to report news stories that effect our community."

Albany Patch published the initial story last week based on information that the school district and police department released. We reported what we knew. An Albany Middle School teacher had been arrested on suspicion of committing a serious crime, and the school district had placed him on administrative leave. It was our responsibility to get the facts and share what we learned.

We have a public criminal justice system because we've seen how closed systems are abused. Our system comes with a price, as sometimes innocent people are arrested and their names publicized. Sometimes, we get bits and pieces of the truth but not the whole story. The alternative is a system that keeps arrests secret, which can lead to even worse consequences.

Whenever we publish stories about important issues in our community, we hope we're providing a valuable service, dispelling rumors, providing context.

On Patch, people who knew James Izumizaki, people who didn’t, people using real names, people posting anonymously all are trying provide context. That discussion is an intrinsic element of every story we do. Patch exists to have a conversation about our communities, not to simply deliver information. Sometimes that conversation feels raw and uncomfortable. It doesn’t replace the conversations with our family and friends or discussions with therapists or any other means humans use to grow from tragedies; it is a different dialogue that is valuable to the community. And it’s valuable to us at Patch, as we read what you say, what you think we got right, what we should do better.

Had this story unfolded through the legal system, we would have kept you informed along the way. Now, we'll keep you informed as best we can if and when new facts emerge.

We don't know and may never know the truth about the allegations against James Izumizaki. What kind of help is offered to suspects like him before they are released from jail? How are they evaluated to determine whether they are a threat to themselves or others? What other meaningful questions should we explore in light of this tragedy?

More information if you’re seeking help:

  • Tips from AUSD: How to Explain Difficult Topics to Children
  • Interfaith Service of Healing and Comfort (Oct. 4)
  • Blog: Albany’s Children Are Hurting—Helping Your Teen Work Through This Life Changing Event
  • Crisis Hotlines & Resources for Mental Health Services
  • Coping as a Community with Allegations of Sexual Offending
  • California Launches Suicide Prevention Website

Ari Soglin, Patch senior regional editor, is an Albany resident.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

AMS Parent October 04, 2012 at 12:22 AM
Having read the stories on the Patch and other papers such as sfgate or san jose mercury news, I found the reporting at the Patch to be at least as good and usually better than what I saw elsewhere. I can't see how the Patch did anything wrong by reporting the facts of the case. If more discretion was required, it would be the statements of administrators and the criminal justice system that should be in question. The only thing I'm not sure about is the comment sections. The argument that allowing public comment on such a sensitive matter is destructive - that argument resonates with me.
Anon October 04, 2012 at 01:13 AM
I want to start by saying that the poor girl and her family that were part of this situation have had their lives altered forever. If the accusations were true, this situation is tragic because she's been victimized. If they are false, then the will likely be vilified and will possibly have to deal with the guilt of a suicide. Likewise, the family of Mr. I will suffer, and would have regardless of any events that may have unfolded. My thoughts and prayers go out to both families. Now is not the time for speculation. We are not armchair detectives.
Anon October 04, 2012 at 01:14 AM
With that said and without implication either way, (though perhaps this is not the forum for such questions), what recourse do teachers have if they are accused? Why couldn't this have been kept from the public at large until things were sorted out? Should teachers have to fear accusations based on a vengeful student? (Again, I am in no way implying that this was the case here, but referring to a prior post) Once those accusations are made, the damage cannot be undone. After 6 years of post-secondary schooling and x number of years teaching, a career (or at least a position at the given school) can be wiped out in an instant. I think that I would not want my child in class with a teacher who had even been accused falsely. But is that fair? Could there be a better system in place for due process without public scrutiny? How can we support and protect our children, while keeping the lives of the accused in mind? At the very least, the media could have reported without the release of Mr. I.'s name. It likely would have surfaced regardless and I feel that arguing over it only sets a poor example at a time when the community needs to come together to support all of those who are hurt by this tragedy. Wrapped up in all of this is the question that begs: how can we as a society find a way to support both the accused and the accuser without taking sides or jumping to premature conclusions?
Anon October 04, 2012 at 01:15 AM
Continued below. "With that said..."
Jen Daly October 04, 2012 at 02:27 AM
Tim Armstrong recently promised investors Patch Media (owned by AOL) would book $40 million in ads this year (after taking in virtually nothing last year). So page views must be a big concern, and a "hot" comment thread generates page views. All online news providers like page views, but Bay Area News Group (Tribune, Merc, CC Times) reported on this story as it broke with comments off (they've hosted comments on more recent articles on community reaction to the week's events). Some stories lend themselves to "dialogue" online. For example, this story is an editorial/opinion piece around a question we can debate (what kind of online news coverage do we want?) But what can readers add to a rapidly developing, highly sensitive story? Context? Nobody knew the context. Nobody knew anything. All people could really add was LOTS of emotion and speculation. And where was this "dialogue"? Mostly people ignored each other's comments or disparaged them. At a time when it would have benefitted our small community to stay calm, Patch comments hyped public emotion. At a time when it would have been prudent to reserve judgement, Patch comments provided a platform for anonymous speculation. Exercising editorial restraint does not amount to "censorship". Not opening comments on day one does not mean you must *never* allow discussion (as Bay Area News Group has demonstrated). I remain dismayed with Patch's decision around this issue.
Paul Kennedy October 04, 2012 at 03:43 AM
No one opens the newspaper and turns to the Letters to the Editor to get the news, but that's what happened here with the Patch's Comments section, given the fact little or no news was published. Amid the opinions back and forth and statements of support for or against were a few statements of fact about the case not previously made public by the authorities. They may be true. But what's the basis upon which the Patch's editors knew them to be true? What's to prevent someone from posting statements of fact that are indeed lies? Some comments misstated publicly known facts about this case. Fact A became Fact B and Fact B soon became Fact C. In a few cases, Patch's editors stepped in to clarify the facts. But folks jumping into the story -- oops, Comments section -- at the bottom often were presented with comments containing statements that were false. Was the Albany community better off or worse off to have the Patch around when this story broke? Perhaps but we could have done w/o the Comments section! Comments sections are a huge source of traffic gained at little cost other than the expense of monitoring them. No one buys 10 or 20 newspapers to re-read the letters to the editor but we are going to click back 10 or 20 times to read the latest comments. And clicks are what make online publishers money. Someone at Patch headquarters monitoring traffic will see that it was a very good week for the Albany Patch. What they won't know is that it was a lousy week for Albany.
barbara b October 04, 2012 at 05:41 AM
Sorry for a poor word choice (story) in the case noted above. What I meant was personal narrative. It implies telling ones truth.
Emilie Raguso October 04, 2012 at 08:20 AM
A great and useful discussion -- I really appreciate many of the ideas expressed here. I have been in town all week and have heard pretty much everyone talking about this situation. Parents are talking. Kids are talking. Kids are writing on Facebook about it. There is no shortage of dialogue, informed and otherwise, happening throughout the city, behind closed doors and on the avenues. Why does offering a place for all of these conversations to come together provide a disservice? We've heard from several parents that many kids know many more details than they're sharing; that kids aren't using the counseling services; that they're not talking with their parents. The dialogue on this site has provided a space for people to share information, to hash out their feelings and perhaps to learn about a wide range of topics, experiences and alternate viewpoints. I continue to believe that this is better than leaving the conversation to the off-line rumor mill.
Emilie Raguso October 04, 2012 at 08:40 AM
Via numerous local congregations and other participants: The Albany community is invited to attend an Interfaith Service of Healing and Comfort on Thursday evening, October 4, at the Albany Veterans Memorial Building, 1325 Portland Ave., Albany, at 7:30 pm. -- Details -- http://patch.com/N-fm5K
Dn October 04, 2012 at 02:38 PM
The same toxic smell is present in the Hercules Patch. The lunatics are running the asylum big time there, with little moderation. The vitriol and anger from these crazies is sickening. Apologies, off topic. The tragedy in Albany is indeed sad for all parties from media (Patch, CCtimes, Chronicle, etc) who need to inform, to the community affected, and to the family who I'm sure are devastated. Having said this, nothing has been mentioned nor discussed regarding the Asian culture and it's influence (good and bad) to provide an understanding in the unfortunate choice Mr. I made. While this will not change this horrific ending, perhaps it could help with the healing. Ms. Raguso, Mr. Soglin, an article or discussion on the Patch?
Ira Sharenow October 04, 2012 at 03:12 PM
AOL’s hyperlocal news network Patch released a major redesign Sunday evening, pushing the platform away from a traditional editorial news property and into a more social, user-driven service. The move marks the beginning of what AOL CEO Tim Armstrong called “phase two” in the company’s evolution as it looks to establish a place in the market as a local utility with news as one spoke of the wheel. The redesign, which initially is only being pushed to five Long Island sites, will be rolled out to 50 sites by the end of the year and the remaining 800 plus Patches by the end of the Q1 2013. http://streetfightmag.com/2012/09/23/patch-redesign-emphasizes-social-as-path-to-revenue-growth/ http://bellmore.patch.com/ http://streetfightmag.com/2012/09/23/patch-redesign-emphasizes-social-as-path-to-revenue-growth/ http://adage.com/article/digital/aol-preps-big-patch-amidst-sound-q2-results/236299/
Joan Williams October 04, 2012 at 05:32 PM
It is not too late to turn off the comments. Children who are struggling to cope with an incomprehensibly complex event are turning to Patch comments for more information. I shudder to think what they are taking in from what they read. I urge the Patch to reconsider their comments policy and restrict them when it comes to circumstances that have a direct impact on the well-being of minors. Please remember, affected students are as young as 11 YEARS OLD. They are extremely vulnerable right now and do not have the emotional maturity to handle the content that has been appearing in these pages.
Steven W October 04, 2012 at 06:30 PM
If they don't read it here, they will read it on Facebook or MySpace, or discuss it among their friends, or hear it in the lunchroom, or really any number of places. In a situation like this, there is no way to turn off the wellspring of information (true or not) that they are going to be bombarded with. I'm pretty sure there is little here that they haven't already seen/heard/talked about, and this is where good parenting comes into play. Even if you were to shut off the Patch to anybody under age 16, it really wouldn't make much of a difference in what they know/hear/read/discuss.
Jessica McGowen October 04, 2012 at 09:50 PM
Is this a retweet ? Pretty certain I have seen this ridiculous comment in some other patch rant. I'll do the honors in repeating the fact. They were doing their job.
Karl October 04, 2012 at 10:06 PM
Some parents want the world (wide web,) to be responsible for raising their kids. I know some parents who only allow internet access while the parent is in the room. These same people don't give smartphones to their kids. patch.com is a for profit website. Local advertising has mostly been replaced by banks and corporate giants. Journalism, like everything else this century icluding being a teenager, has evolved. Don't like patch, don't read it.
Emilie Raguso October 04, 2012 at 10:45 PM
I fear it might be jumping to conclusions to consider the role of Asian culture in Mr. Izumizaki's death. Do you have firsthand knowledge to believe it played a part?
Leah Flanagan October 04, 2012 at 11:44 PM
Emilie, you are saying, remarkably, that you would do the exact same thing if you faced the decision today. I hope you’re aware that carefully considered opinions are not with you on this, including, I'm told, those of editors and ombudspersons for serious and reputable news organizations. I’m astounded, if you carefully read everything above, that you could ask “why does offering a place for all of these conversations to come together provide a disservice?” I thought we explained this pretty well. Many of us feel that it CAUSED MORE HARM THAN GOOD. We’re told that other news outlets chose to NOT allow comments when this was first reported. There’s a reason for that, and I think you should take it upon yourself to go and find out what that reason is, rather than simply believing something because… you believe it. I would very much like it if you would let me know the contact information of your immediate supervisor, or a way to contact your advisory board. I want to know precisely what allowed you to make this sort of ethical decision unilaterally, and what gives you the right now to disregard community concerns. If there are standards of journalistic ethics backing you up, please let us know and include citations.
Leah Flanagan October 04, 2012 at 11:45 PM
I'm not allowed to try to change it?
L. Gottwald October 05, 2012 at 05:18 AM
I completely agree with Leah (above comment) I find the endless comments on this issue very disturbing. Many in the community have asked that you shut down the comments, and have given you very good reasons why. Why are not listening, Patch (Emilie, and others that make these decisions)? Providing a forum for endless comments about people that cannot defend themselves seems heartless.
AEK October 05, 2012 at 05:59 AM
If someone is innocent until proven guilty, why would we want to see or know about a young man's arrest for a "lewd act" that was not defined, let alone in the frenzied and far reaching fashion that it was? Furthermore, using the charge of "lewd act" as the headline felt like sensationalism. Plastering pictures of this man on the nightly news and the internet did nothing to protect the community whether the allegations were true or false. It certainly had something to do with the hopelessness he must have felt which brought him to the suicide he acted upon. I don't see how it helped the victims in this case if the allegations were true, even though the investigation and his arrest needed to happen. If he had the chance to have gone through the legal process and been convicted of the crime he was accused of it seems that would be news worthy. Now we are just left with questions about what happened and how it was handled which we will never really know other than what the alleged victims and police tell us, which doesn't even help the victims if the crimes had actually been committed. Additionally, the judgement passed and the lack of understanding or empathy (words such as selfishness to describe the act) concerning this very young man's suicide is incredibly sad and disheartening, and does nothing to ease the pain this young man's parents must be feeling at this time.
Dept. of Misinformation October 05, 2012 at 06:11 AM
Edit your own behavior then and don't use the patch. The only way this works is if it's facilitated like youtube, and then eventually it will govern itself, or people who have problems like yourself begin to navigate their way through without emotional issue. Emilie and the bunch listen, you are talking about like five people who want the comments shut down. This is what a free thinking/posting society is, well mostly, I'm the one that should be outraged--as nearly 25% or my comments are weeded out. And I have really compelling , passionate, well articulate and fair things to say. censorship runs deep on dis here patch. sign'd
Emilie Raguso October 05, 2012 at 07:55 AM
As previously noted: The primary reason we used "lewd act" in the headline is because police have released no real information about the allegations EXCEPT that James Izumizaki was arrested on suspicion of committing a lewd act upon a minor under 14. That's, unfortunately, all we really know. That is the official criminal code language -- not sensationalism. If we knew the arrest was related to groping, molestation, inappropriate touching, etc. -- we would have been able to use different language. But because that was the code under which he was arrested, that was the only language we could use to ensure that we were being accurate. I do not believe there's anything sensational about it.
Emilie Raguso October 05, 2012 at 07:59 AM
To follow up on the Asian culture suggestion: I did speak with people who have known the family for decades, who said the family had very much assimilated, and that they had been living in the U.S. for several generations (that James and his brother's parents were born in the U.S., and perhaps even further back). We have not been able to reach James' brother to learn more, unfortunately, and of course, even if we could, there's a high likelihood he wouldn't wish to speak with us at this time.
Emilie Raguso October 05, 2012 at 08:02 AM
@Leah -- while we cannot promise changes, we definitely welcome and encourage your continued suggestions. I know they're well-thought-out and offered with the best intentions of creating the most productive community space. Please don't stop! @Karl -- your points, too, are well taken.
Emilie Raguso October 05, 2012 at 08:15 AM
@Leah -- Ari is one of my editors; he wrote this piece. You can reach him at ari@patch.com. My direct supervisor is Alex Gronke; you can reach him at alex.gronke@patch.com. We all discussed on a daily basis how to handle commenting related to stories about this investigation and we agreed on our approach, which was to moderate all comments (which means they require editor review prior to approval). I am not sure it's fair for you to say we/I disregarded "community concerns." We have heard from many people -- on Patch, via email and via Facebook -- that people have appreciated the comments and felt they were a vital part of our approach to this story -- because they revealed many of the responses people were struggling with and how they were feeling. I understand that you feel strongly about this, and also that other parents and community members feel strongly about this. But there are many other people who also feel strongly who do not agree with your stated position. I never said I believe something simply because I believe it. I'm not sure I understand exactly what that means. There were multiple factors that went into allowing moderated comments on all the stories, but I'm not sure that explaining all of the reasons behind that would really satisfy you. I would like to think you could understand our position even if you don't agree with it.
lubov mazur October 05, 2012 at 04:10 PM
A new coat of paint (uniforms) changes nothing about the underlying causes of inappropriate interactions between adults and minors.
Michael Cabanatuan October 05, 2012 at 05:03 PM
There's an easy way to turn off comments. Stop reading at the end of the story.
Joan Williams October 05, 2012 at 05:42 PM
The Patch is meant to be a source of local knowledge--news and events important to the community. I see nowhere in it's charter that says it should be facilitating gossip and conjecture that is potentially harmful to children. And BTW, I like the Patch. However, I think it could improve in this area.
Ralph Norton October 06, 2012 at 02:11 AM
The Patch appears to be undergoing a Renaissance this weekend-- many blog and opinion pieces aside from the usual suspects. Perhaps the community will come back after Emilie's departure. It will be interesting to see if the new editor(s) play favorites and continue the divisiveness. I sure hope not.
Albany Student October 30, 2012 at 11:46 PM
The accuser isn't feeling terrible. She's prancing about the halls of her school, laughing and not giving a care in the world.


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