When reporters hug newsmakers

A man was released from prison this week after almost 10 years in prison. Ryan Ferguson was set free after a Missouri appeals court overturned his conviction and prosecutors elected not to retry him on charges of murdering a sports editor.

The story might already be fading from view if not for this brouhaha: A reporter covering the case hugged him when he was released.

Melanie Moon, an anchor/reporter at a St. Louis station defended her hugging during a heated Twitter battle between her and other journalists who say hugging people you’re covering crosses the ethical line.

“It’s impossible to be objective on this,” she tells the St. Louis Post Dispatch. “It was clearly and blatantly an injustice.”

“We’re people first and reporters second,” she said, about the hug, first “reported” on Twitter by a local Associated Press reporter.

Joy Mayer, a journalism professor at the University of Missouri (considered one of the nation’s finest journalism schools) could not disagree more.

She created this Storify report on the exchanges and a basic point lost by many journalists: Courts don’t declare people innocent; they deal only in guilt, only in proof or lack thereof.

But Mayer also saw the hugging coming. Before the news conference, she had warned her students, “Remember that people are going to be really excited, and it’s going to feel like a celebration. Your role is to cover that and not to personally celebrate.”