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April 29, 2011 - Steve Schulwitz
Sometimes as journalists you can't get updates or details on a breaking news story as quick as you would like, and as a result, the public is put in a holding pattern awaiting the latest news for the event.
It is a helpless feeling because as a reporter we want to be the public's main source of news, as a developing story plays out. Sometimes it just isn't possible, though. At least as much as we would like it to be.
There are times during breaking news where we can't meet the demand for new information put on us by our audience and can only report what is being released in small increments, through non-descriptive and brief press releases which are sent to us.
That was the case with the recent armed robbery and eventual capture of Vance Mills for his alleged armed robbery of the LaFave's Pharmacy in Alpena.
We were on top of the story from the minute the 911 call took place and the police dispatched. We had a reporter on scene within minutes and only could muster a photo, as the law enforcement officials had secured the area and secluded witnesses. There was no time for questions because there was an armed gunman at large. Anyone can understand that, I hope.
In no time, the Internet, namely Facebook, was a buzz with faulty facts, rumors and speculation to what was actually transpiring. The overwhelming demand for details as to what was happening flooded one local media source's servers to the point where you couldn't access the website for many hours. It would have been great to be able to meet the people's request for minute-to-minute updates, but the facts they wanted weren't verified by those in charge of the investigation and to print news that wasn't substantiated would have been irresponsible.
That is when the attacks on the local media began.
Because we didn't know the particulars or details of the case, we didn't have much factual information to share. People loudly voiced that we weren't doing our job or just casting the story aside. They couldn't be more wrong.
We wanted the latest news and tried tirelessly to get it, but it takes cooperation from those involved to get information to move forward. In a serious matter like this, officials are tight-lipped about what is transpiring, as to insure the safety of those involved so that critical information isn't accidentally passed on to the suspect, giving them time to come up with a counter plan. I do not fault the local police for this; I would do the same.
Sure, we could have tried to contact the suspect's family for a story, but don't you think they were suffering enough without having a microphone pushed in their face and asked where their son is?
Social media is great, but as far as people using "friends" as a news source for serious matters like this, do people really expect to get facts? Especially when the newspapers, television stations and radio news reporters don't have them? The people would be naive to think so.
We have worked hard to build our sources, and for the most part, they are very good about sharing information. We use them for stories and a method of information, and they use us when they have an important public message which needs to be put out in mass.
When serious circumstances arise and lives are at stake, though, all bets are off and it is up to them to catch the bad guy and us to navigate the labyrinth between fact and rumor until they feel the time has come to share with us the more intricate details of what occurred. Rest assured, what happened in the store, at the camp and in the woods will be revealed as the court case moves forward.
The tips will not be from my friend on Facebook who lives in Lansing who heard from another friend on Twitter that the gunman has hostages and headed to Mexico.
I think I would rather wait a day or so and get the real story, then fall into the trap of passing along bogus and potentially harmful "news."
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