According to some Western Mass. newspapers, Jason Vassell has been a 23-year-old for about 13 months now. Some say his case is making people think twice about police misconduct even in places so progressive as Amherst. But local media has me looking again at his age.
Most reporters, when determining the age of a victim or an assailant (the identity of Vassell in this incident is debated) check for his birthday in an arrest report. After some elementry arithmetic, the age becomes solid fact.
The issue came up in the Massachusetts Daily Collegian’s newsroom. We were writing our pieces and helping the Boston Globe with its. The Globe asked if Vassell is 23 or 24 years old. Good question.
As Vassell’s case stretched on for a year, reporters neglected to return to primary source documents to retrieve his age. Papers have repeatedly reported his age at 23, when he has been 24 since May 9.
Goes to show that in a complicated case like this, some reporters are reading their stories, or others’, for background info instead of reporting again.