SCOTT SIMON, host:

When those rape allegations first became public a year ago, news organizations named the men accused, but did not name the woman who said she'd been raped. It's a standard in the news business, which is supposed to avoid discouraging women who have been raped from contacting the police and testifying in court.

But this week, even after the state's attorney general said there was no rape and the men were innocent, most news organizations, including NPR News, continued to withhold the woman's name.

The Raleigh News & Observer, however, decided to name the men's accuser. Joined now by the newspaper's executive editor Melanie Sill, who's at the Durham studios of member station WUNC. Ms. Sill, thanks for being with us.

Ms. MELANIE SILL (Executive Editor, Raleigh News & Observer): Glad to do it, Scott.

SIMON: And I gather, reading about your decision, it wasn't obvious and didn't come in a rush. There was a lot of consultation.

Ms. SILL: We have been covering the story, obviously, closely over the past year. In the past few months, the situation continued to evolve. We learned more and more about the holes in the case and inconsistencies in the story offered by the accuser. And so we started discussing whether there would come a time when we would name her and under what circumstances. And when the attorney general's decision came down, it seemed like the time had come.

SIMON: What about the attorney general's decision changed it for you?

Ms. SILL: Well the most obvious change was there was no longer a criminal charge against the three players. So there was no criminal complaint. But it really came down to a matter of fairness. On one side, you had a woman who said that she had been injured, and on the other side, you had three men that said they had been injured and damaged by her. It was her word against theirs. And we felt that we wanted to be in a neutral position and that position was to identify both sides.

SIMON: And how do you answer the concern that this might discourage women who have been raped from coming forward?

Ms. SILL: To help us shape our decision, we talked with Advocates For Sexual Assault that comes along with attorneys and other journalists and all kinds of people because that is the reason behind the policy of not identifying people who report rapes.

But this is a situation that doesn't really fit within the bound of the policy. It's an exceptional case in a really unusual set of circumstances. We wanted to make the decision that was right for this situation, rather than just following a policy that didn't apply.

SIMON: Could this whole nasty, ugly business, which may have permanently altered the lives of several young men who, according to the state attorney general after exhaustive investigation, are innocent.

Could it have been avoided if somebody making these charges knew that they would be identified in public, and their charges would have to stand up to public scrutiny?

MS. SILL: That's a good question. It's a hard one to answer. Her name, obviously, was known to anybody who wanted to find it out. It has been on the Internet from almost the beginning. So I'm not sure that the name alone would have changed the outcome, but I also think it's an unusual thing.

We write about people. We identify them. And it's an unusual thing for us to have anybody we're writing about not be mentioned by name. She's a real person. She had reasons for doing what she did. And I think as we continue to report on the situation, having her emerge as a real person may change the way people view the case.

SIMON: Melanie Sill, executive editor of the Raleigh News & Observer, thanks very much for being with us.

MS. SILL: Thanks for having me.

SIMON: And the word about NPR's official policy on this - this from the news directors of NPR - quote, "NPR does not name victims of sexual assaults. There will at times be exceptions, such as, certain instances when a victim goes public with his/her identity. But in this case, we've decided not to air the name of the accuser."

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SIMON: This is NPR News.

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