Monday, October 27, 2008

Street News Versus Real News

The story on the street goes something like this:

Sunday night. October 19th. A distraught man with a weapon is threatening himself or others. City police cordoned off the area of downtown Plattsburgh where the man lives, an apartment building on City Hall Place. Some officers (SWAT team) are hidden behind the bushes, ready to respond. Anyone entering the area is told to leave. Other officers go door to door to warn people about the problem, to stay inside or leave. Eventually the distraught man is taken to the mental health unit at the hospital.

Obviously, a sketchy story. How much of it is true? I don’t know. (Plattsburgh City Police have a SWAT team?) Maybe a minor incident was blown of proportion. But all the buzz indicates that something serious went down.

In the meantime the rumors are flying. Why? Because Plattsburgh’s daily newspaper, the Press-Republican, never published any details.

The story might have been covered on a local TV or radio station but usually I don’t use those outlets for news. The Plattsburgh TV station, WPTZ, usually reports on Vermont events to the detriment of its Plattsburgh coverage. WIRY, Plattsburgh’s Hometown Radio, doesn’t cover the news like it did in the old days. During its news spots the DJ sounds like he’s reading edited versions of Press-Republican articles.

Anyway, for in-depth coverage, most people turn to the newspaper. So what happened? Why no mention of such a dramatic incident that went down a week ago in the heart of downtown Plattsburgh? One wag observed: “It happened on a Sunday night and all the PR reporters had gone home.”

One theory is that the confrontation involved someone with mental health issues and so to spare that person the story was overlooked. In that case, just don’t publish the person’s name.

But why should the newspaper bother to cover the incident at all, especially if it’s only a wild tale? Simple. News on the street isn’t real news. The role of the news media is to get the facts and set the story straight, instead of letting the public rely on rumors for info.

One rumor says the distraught man evaded the police and was caught in another part of town. OK, that makes the city police look bad. But what if the rumor is untrue? Despite doing a good job, the Plattsburgh Police Department ends up looking incompetent.

But the Plattsburgh PD could be partially to blame for allowing the scuttlebutt to spread. At times it isn’t that open with providing information to the media, being too tight-lipped and secretive. In its November 17th edition the Plattsburgh State student newspaper, Cardinal Points, talked about this long-standing problem. [Link]

The public does have a right to be informed. Citizens should be aware that even in prosaic Plattsburgh things on occasion get edgy. People shouldn’t be getting their news on the street. But this won’t change until the local media and law enforcement officials decide to serve the public and let the sunshine in.

NOTE: Before I posted the above article, I decided to sniff around the Internet to see if any local media did report on the story. I do read the Press-Republican every day but sometimes an item will slip pass me. With the caveat in mind that not everything is put up on the website, I searched the PR’s site with key words like “Plattsburgh police,” going back to November 19th. Nothing popped up in either the main articles or the Police Log. Ditto for Cardinal Points at PSUC.

I also checked the dot coms for the local TV stations: WPTZ, WCAX, and WFFF. I found nothing about the incident in their news sections.

So all that is left is rumor.


Anonymous said...

Maybe someone out there listened to what went down via police scanner? That would help explain whether or not the confrontation began in another part of town.

Anonymous said...

This doesn't suprise me. It is not the first time that this has happened. The local media either totally distorts stories, of fails to report them altogether. One has to wonder why. God forbid that the public become aware of what is happening in their community. As far as I see it, the Press Republican is nothing more that a rag of fluff journalism. And as far as WPTZ, I think that they should just change it to W"VT"Z.