In this case, we heard quite a bit of information over the radio as the incident was unfolding, including both the name of the suspect and the name of the man who was shot to death. Should we report those names?
Of course not. Neither name had been verified. There are a lot of things happening at an active crime scene, and preliminary reports are just that — preliminary. We don’t want to inadvertently report information at an active police scene that could benefit a criminal. Writing something like “The cops are hiding in the alley waiting for the bank robbers” would be a very, very bad thing to report, either on our website or on social media. Nor would I want to inadvertently tell a family a loved one had died.
We faced another kind of dilemma at the Smith Tower, too. Its downtown location, a few blocks from our office, meant that we were able to react quickly and send several journalists to the scene.
They got there ahead of many of the police officers and quickly took up positions across the street where they were out of the way, but could see what was going on. Because we could see the events unfold, we actually ended up with a different problem.
From her good vantage point, Photo Editor Amanda Cowan ended up with some very intense photos, a few of which we thought were too graphic to publish. I wrote about this dilemma last year, so I will spare you the repetition, but I did want to share the photo we ended up using as our lead image in print and online. It balances journalism with respect for our readers and the victim.
Bottom line: It takes news media time to decide what to report and when to report it, but in the end, the readers are entitled to a comprehensive report, with verified facts.