Top of the Morning, July 17, 2017

Top of the Morning, July 17, 2017

I got a hard lesson in what political strategists would call "optics" the other day.

Wednesday saw key developments in two big area crime stories, with a federal grand jury indicting BRENDT CHRISTENSEN on kidnapping charges in the June 9 disappearance of YINGYING ZHANG and the Piatt County murder trial of GREGORY HOUSER in his wife's 1990 death being sent to the jury.

But staff writers MARY SCHENK and TIM MITCHELL were still hard at work chasing down other crime news, and that same day, they respectively wrote stories on sexual-assault charges filed against KEVIN LEFEVER, 18, of Rantoul, and home-invasion charges filed against TRISTAN JADEN MARKS, 18, of Chicago, in an attack at a Champaign house.

You may have noticed some similarities about the two accused men, and I'll provide some more. Both are 18; both are facing felony charges; each had his bond set at $500,000.

One thing they don't share, however, is race: Lefever is white, while Marks is black. This created some unintended consequences with the headlines I published online. Lefever's referred to him as "teen," while Marks' used "man."

This was technically correct and completely innocuous: 18- and 19-year-old males are both "teens" and "men," and the reasoning behind the word choice was simply to avoid repeating "man" in multiple headlines.

But some people saw it differently, especially after a reader took screenshots of each online story and put them side-by-side in a Facebook post (above).

Some thought we were downplaying the severity of Lefever's crime by portraying him as childlike; others said we committed a microaggression against Marks by portraying the black 18-year-old as a man but the white 18-year-old as a teen.

Still others wondered why Lefever was a teen now when he was a man in a headline a month ago.

No matter what, the optics were bad. More importantly, they were completely unnecessary. These people are adults in the eyes of the law, so they can be adults in the eyes of our website, as well.

After a friend tagged me in the Facebook post, I discussed the issue with my editors, and we agreed on what we think is an acceptable solution. Therefore, from now on, we will avoid the use of "teen" or "teenager" in crime stories involving people 18 or older.

I invite you to hold me to that and welcome your feedback. My email address is

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