D.C. TV station quotes scanner during Navy Yard coverage

Washington, D.C., TV station WTTG-TV quoted liberally from police scanners on its Twitter account during coverage of a mass shooting Monday at D.C.’s Navy Yard.

Quoting from police scanners during a breaking news situation may be tempting, but it’s a really bad idea, as the information passing through such devices is not confirmed (and authorities generally don’t have time to confirm it).

During the Boston Marathon bombings manhunt, a “false-information feedback loop” occurred after police repeated bad information they’d seen on Twitter.

Most responsible journalists don’t report as fact what they hear on the scanner,” Poynter’s Kelly McBride said at the time.

 

 

 

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  • Jim Dean

    One more sign of our changing landscape. In the good ol’ days, it was assumed that we were going to vet absolutely everything to the highest degree-after all, once it’s in print, it’s forever.

    Then came the website. “Well, we can update it if we find out more” was doublespeak for “as long as we’re half right, it’s fine” as far as a lot of people were concerned. After all, the website came with a huge push to be first, no matter what it takes.

    Now we’ve got social media. We only thought the website raised the pressure to be first. We had no clue how much pressure we were going to face once everyone with a Twitter account had the ability to scoop us on a national level. This has increased the pressure to be first to a whole new level.

    Sadly, it’s also lowered the bar (for some) on how much vetting goes into a story. Remember, a tweet is still a story-it’s a short one, but does it deserve less scrutiny than a thousand word missive that’s going above the fold on Sunday?

    There are stations doing twitter/scanner relationships right. You reserve it for things like traffic, and then only once you’re sure it’s right. Granted, you haven’t gone out there and looked at the lane closure, but once you’ve heard them set up detours and have a full picture in your mind of what they’ve done (and no reason to doubt it) it could be said that you’re doing a disservice to your readers by not sharing this.

    After all, if you’re standing on the scene with no scanner and no PIO, you may have a good idea what the wreck is, but you’ll have no idea what the traffic situation is. The person on the assignment desk (with a scanner) though, knows exactly what that situation is-why should they not share it?

    If you do decide to share scanner information, don’t use it for more than you’re sure of. You really don’t know the patient condition, don’t know much about the wreck. What you DO know is the roads that are closed, and this, at that point, is the only information that will really help your readers.

    In a situation like the shooting above, for me, the only thing that I could see sharing as a tweet to our readers would be if I heard multiple officers giving a specific location where the shooter was that also indicated he was moving in a specific direction. That could give readers who he is headed toward some advance warning. Even with that one, I’d grab another editor and get a second opinion first, and we’d both have to be 100 percent convinced that what we were doing was right, and correct.

  • DStatter

    The job of a reporter no longer seems to be to confirm information first. The SOP for breaking news now is report first, confirm second and correct third. The phrase “unconfirmed reports”, used often in local and network coverage, should be banned. An unconfirmed report is just a rumor.
    As for using scanner information without confirming it, remember how well that worked for CNN and Fox News on 9/11 a few years ago when they reported the Coast Guard fired on a boat on the Potomac River while President Obama was at the Pentagon. In my four decades as a reporter I used the scanner as a tool to help guide my reporting, but not as a confirmed source of information. My job was to verify what I heard.

  • http://www.falconvalleygroup.com Gayle Falkenthal

    The tweet says it and you get it, but it’s shocking how many people absolutely do NOT get it. There really are a lot of people who assume everything they read online is true.

  • http://www.falconvalleygroup.com Gayle Falkenthal

    The tweet says it and you get it, but it’s shocking how many people absolutely do NOT get it. There really are a lot of people who assume everything they read online is true.

  • http://www.falconvalleygroup.com Gayle Falkenthal

    I was taught never to report from a scanner, and never to report a rumor until it becomes a fact. I hear this kind of thing all the time: “We are hearing rumors that the shooter may be… blah blah blah.” Knock that stuff off.

  • http://www.falconvalleygroup.com Gayle Falkenthal

    I was taught never to report from a scanner, and never to report a rumor until it becomes a fact. I hear this kind of thing all the time: “We are hearing rumors that the shooter may be… blah blah blah.” Knock that stuff off.

  • quotidian

    Why is it a bad idea? The tweet says plainly it is from a scanner. I think people are capable of digesting the ramifications of that.