Covering Breaking News is Always Tricky

By: Roger Sheppard
By: Roger Sheppard

Trying to strike a balance between urgency and restraint not easy

“No boom, no story.” That was the way we used to handle bomb threats at schools and elsewhere. Our theory, in the olden days, was that if we reported on every bomb threat, it would just encourage copy-cats. But as I have discussed here before, we no longer have the luxury of NOT reporting on bomb threats or other possible acts of violence, particularly in our schools. The many school incidents that have occurred across the U.S. in the past few years, and the explosion of cell phones and social media, have made that impossible. Now, if we DON’T at least acknowledge that something was going on – even if it turns out eventually to be NOTHING -- we would be attacked for failing to keep people informed. In truth, what we find ourselves doing in most of these cases is chasing down and quashing rumors, which are created and spread across Twitter, Facebook, and text messages. This new reality reared its ugly head again this past Wednesday, when police responded to the report of a person with a gun inside of Parkersburg High School or on school property. What REALLY turned out to be the case, was that a student at PHS had received an IMAGE of a gun in a text message on his phone. Nonetheless, the initial report triggered a school lock-down and police on the scene. WTAP reported the information we got from police but we did our best NOT to sensationalize it. We have to walk a fine line between sharing what we know, trying to not control the flow of news, and yet trying to not over-do it. No matter what we do, we know we’ll get criticized. We accept that as part of what we do. But I always ask people to keep in mind what is like in larger cities, with three, four or five TV stations, when an incident like this happens. Live trucks roll, helicopters are scrambled, wall-to-wall coverage begins. And it’s all because we know that viewers will watch that which is most exciting, whether its warranted or even accurate. Just one more reason I’m glad to live where we do, and that the local TV station can exercise some good, old-fashioned restraint and taste in handling stores like these. What a concept. That’s this week’s editorial.

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