Julie Barrett is a freelance writer and photographer based in Plano, TX.

What part of "breaking" news don't people get?

Fresh when it gets here from Julie Barrett
Tuesday, August 17, 2010

I've been following a tragic story that happened in our county today. It made the national news, so perhaps you read something about it: A man pulled a pickup truck and trailer in front of the police headquarters in McKinney, set it on fire, and then ran off to a line of trees and started shooting. Fortunately, the truck and trailer did not blow up. It was discovered later that the truck was loaded with ammunition and the trailer with flares and fertilizer, among other things. The whole thing was over in five minutes, and there were no injuries. The only fatality was the shooter, and at this time it's not known whether he shot himself or if a police bullet killed him.

Across the street is one campus of Collin College, a school where Chris is still enrolled. He attends a different campus, but got a text message this morning from the school's alert system. Fortunately, classes don't start until next week, so there weren't many people at that facility.

This was a confusing story, which I started following when Chris got the text message. The first reports came from the school itself, apparently, and stated that there were shots fired at the campus. Then it was apparent that the incident was across the street. The police suspected multiple people might have been involved at one point.

This makes for a confusing situation, with new information coming in by the minute. The story was being updated every minute or two with new information and typo fixes. This is how breaking news works in a print newsroom. You put together a story and keep at it as more information comes in. The big change in the last few years is that papers tend to push stories out to the web as they're working on them.

On one hand, it's a fascinating look at how a breaking news story evolves. On the other, this isn't print where a full story lands on your doorstep (or gutter, where mine usually lands) in the morning. This is warts and all. The big problem comes when people don't understand (or fail to comprehend) the fact - noted in red type - that this is a developing story. And boy, do they express their dissatisfaction in the comment threads.

Did you know that typos are solid evidence of a vast liberal  (or conservative, take your pick) conspiracy to control the news? Neither did I. It's also apparently part of the same take your pick conspiracy that the incident was all over before reporters could get to the scene and witness the event as it unfolded. Gosh, they had to rely on public information officers from the college and the police for information, not to mention eyewitness reports. The horror!

And do yourself a favor and read the story before you to go the comment box. Here's a free clue for you: Do your own fact checking. The one bit that got so many people upset was the initial reports that the shooting was on the campus, when in fact it was across the street. All it takes is half a brain to go check the college web site and read their alerts, which they left up through the day. The story was easy to construct at that point. It doesn't take a reporter to read and analyze what happened. The funny thing was that since the college's reports were apparently out there first, national news outlets ran with a story of a campus shooting, which they corrected later. The local paper had it right. But by golly, it's more fun to play armchair pundit and blame the newspaper for the story the national outlets pick up.

Of course, now the conversation has devolved into gun control. Time for the fruitcakes on both ends to come out. I think it's time to go to bed.

Tags: Life

Filed under: Life   Journalism   Idiots who need a life      


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