I see it time and time again. A serious crime occurs and the media races to the scene. It’s the job of the reporters and photographers to gather the facts and inform their viewers/readers/visitors of significant details. Too often reporters have nothing of substance to report even after several hours.
The reporters arrive to a silent scene surrounded by yellow crime scene tape they generally are forbidden to cross. With scant information reporters desperately hound every neighbor looking for information connected to the home in question. This is necessary work.
Sometimes the neighbors are friends or witnesses with a solid connection to the story. I have no problem hearing from these folks. That’s useful and relevant information.
More often than not the neighbors know little or nothing about the occupants of the house and are encouraged to offer their opinions about the event anyway. Usually it’s the neighborhood busybody wanting to be on TV who will deliver the rambling “That’s so scary” sound bite in light of the temporary police presence. This non-interview is a sure sign that the reporter has absolutely nothing of substance to share that’s newsworthy.
Any reporter worth their salt would have obtained the ownership information connected to the property and vehicles present. They would be checking court records looking for criminal and domestic relations cases involving those names that are discovered from their research. The criminal history or nasty divorce involving the players moves way up to the top of the reporter’s investigation list.
The reporters armed with real information can then locate and contact the attorneys and relatives of those people to determine their whereabouts and recent disputes. While they’re at it reporters can get photographs and biographical information on their news makers. Of course, the Social networking sites can be a goldmine of useful information.
Once the investigated names are reliably established as victims or suspects, the story can be properly reported.
When the police media officer is finally available the reporter can ask some relevant questions that may lead to answers. The smart reporter will ask out of earshot of his competitors.
Real reporters will go out of their way to find and interview potential suspects even before the police get to them.
News deadlines are rapidly becoming a thing of the past since print, TV and radio have websites. Reporters can do their needed research from the field with laptop computers and the know-how. Producers can be pressed into service for that function back in the newsrooms for the reporters out in the field. The job is to get it published as soon as possible.
When you see that, “That’s so scary” sound bite, you know the reporter has failed.
Beware of the promotional news tease, “Once again violence has neighbors in one local community locking their doors, news at ten.” That’s the code alerting you that you can skip the broadcast that night.
I have a message for reporters. If you are willing to let police media affairs officers decide what information will be made public and when, who needs reporters or for that matter a free press? News directors and editors can simply send photographers to gather the police sound bites and reporters are not needed at all.
Too many police departments seem to have a solid lock and filter on local news coverage and personally I find that downright disturbing.
I’m always amazed at ignorant cops that want to control the media’s access to criminal suspects. Reporters are never bound to the Miranda ruling and every lie or incriminating statements given to the media by suspects are pure gold for prosecutors.
Too many police beat reporters generally are pathetically ineffective and worthless. I don’t see how, rewriting police propaganda office press releases, qualifies as good journalism.