What Makes Bomb Threat News

By: Roger Sheppard
By: Roger Sheppard
In the good old days of news, before the internet and cell phones, most news agencies had hard and fast rules about bomb threats. Basically it was: no boom, no story. There was always a concern that broadcasting news about bomb threats would only engender copy-cats. So, the less said the better. But now that almost every student has a cell phone that he or she can use to talk or send text messages on, and now that almost everyone has access to the internet so that news (or rumors) about bomb threats can spread at the speed of light, the rules have changed. We, and other news-gathering organizations, have had to modify our “no boom no story” rule to include “unless it inconveniences a large number of people.” “Large” is a somewhat nebulous term and is open to interpretation on a case-by-case basis. It is certainly the case that the recent events at Parkersburg High School have inconvenienced a large number of people, thereby falling under the second criteria. But there may still be people who believe that our coverage of these events will still encourage the copy-cat syndrome. Several points you should know. When the first bomb threat was called in on Friday, Sept. 21, WTAP said nothing about it either on our air or on the internet. That was a conscious decision on our part, in keeping with our policy. But when the second, and then the third threats came in, we had no choice but to share the news. By that time, the schools were working on a news release, knowing that by taking the entire student body to the stadium and making them wait while the building was searched, they would have to say something to the parents and the community. WTAP did no reporting “live” from the scene during WTAP News at Noon on Friday, so as not to add to the confusion of the day. We did report from there live later in the evening, after all the students were long gone. When the same scenario played out on Monday, Sept. 24, we followed the same plan. Nothing on our air or on the web until the second threat was made. We did go live from the front of the campus at Noon, but by then, the school was largely empty. WTAP has tried to handle these disturbing events as carefully and conscientiously as possible. In a much larger market, there would have been much more sensationalism about an event that would have disrupted a proportional number of students and people. We would like to obtain access to the phone messages and broadcast the voice of the person making these threats over our air, so that someone – perhaps you – might recognize the voice and help police stop this person. But so far, we are being told that we cannot do so. We will continue to cover this story as thoroughly as developments require. And we will try to do so without sensationalizing or aggravating the situation.
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