ST. LOUIS — It’s quiet in the newsroom of St. Louis Public Radio on Wednesday. In the studio, host Don Marsh speaks with the Rev. Willis Johnson and the Rev. B.T. Rice about faith and Ferguson, Missouri. Then TweetDeck barks.
“It’s happening,” Kelsey Proud, the organization’s engagement editor, calls out from her desk in the newsroom.
Tweets report a police raid on a church in Ferguson, possibly the one where the Rev. Jesse Jackson spoke earlier in the week.
“They’re saying St. Mark Church,” says Margaret Freivogel, editor of St. Louis Public Radio (and my former boss at the St. Louis Beacon.) “Get Tim over there.”
Suddenly the newsroom is moving, people get up from their desks and hurry back. Journalist Rachel Lippmann picks up her phone and calls the church directly.
No, the woman on the phone says. There’s no raid here.
Tweets keep scrolling, spreading news of the supposed raid. Tim Lloyd, a reporter with the station, calls in. He drove by the church. Other than needing new pavement, it’s fine.
“People, stop it,” Lippmann says to her computer, raising her hands in the air. “They’re saying that people aren’t there.”
She starts composing a tweet.
— Rachel Lippmann (@rlippmann) August 20, 2014
For a while, staff makes calls and talks about what other church it could be. Then, Freivogel makes the call to stop chasing rumors and get back to reporting the news.
Later, Jelani Cobb reported police had in fact visited a school building adjacent to the church.
— STL Public Radio (@stlpublicradio) August 20, 2014
Tommie Pierson, pastor of the church, is also a state rep. Saw police on the premises. #Ferguson
— jelani cobb (@jelani9) August 20, 2014
The flow of information, good and bad, has been a big challenge for the station, which blended with the St. Louis Beacon in December of last year.
“We had to figure out how to stay on top of the breaking news and organize ourselves in a way that we weren’t just completely consumed by the breaking story,” Freivogel said earlier on Wednesday, “that we add to the flow of information that helps people understand what’s going on.”