Thursday, June 02, 2005

Breaking News

When Cindy Larson updated the Aboite man hunt story just after 6:00 pm, George Bellio was still on the loose (and, as far as we know, still is). We have family in the Shorewood addition, and hope that they as well as their neighbors stay safe and the Fort Wayne Police and Allen County Sheriff Departments are able to apprehend Bellio before anyone else is hurt.

But there's also an interesting media angle to this story, which is the way it was reported and disseminated on Wednesday afternoon. We think it's a good example of why the Internet is the future of news, and most especially breaking news.

First, let's give credit where credit is due. WANE was on this story early, and someone there was smart enough to alert the other media outlets. We're not sure if they interrupted the afternoon soaps to break any news, but they continued to update as more news surfaced. The N-S also had a story on its website relatively early in the man hunt.

We heard about the story while listening to a local radio station. Had we not been enjoying the music of Pink Floyd, we would never have known about the school lockdowns until after the fact. It was the type of news that, before everything is resolved, seems vitally important, but after it's over (and no one is hurt), doesn't sound like a big deal.

Here's the problem with reporting the information via radio: people kept calling in and asking the deejays about what was going on, having only caught a portion of the most recent update. They were at the mercy of station breaks and commercials. And television was even more useless. After all, how many of us have a set at the office turned to the Young and the Restless, just in case some news might break. So even if WANE (and the other local stations) did cut in, who would know about it?

Ah, but the internet. A large amount of the working population spend their day at a desk, in front of a computer (and if they don't, someone in the vicinity does), and often those computers are connected to the Internet. All it takes is one person to notice the story, send a few emails or instant messages, and pretty soon everyone in the company -- or the whole town -- knows about what's going on. They don't have to wait for a reporter or deejay -- they can access the information whenever they want, read it, re-read it, make sure they understand, and then freak out. Instead of freaking out at the beginning.

Yesterday's breaking news spreading was actually important, from a community safety standpoint. No doubt law enforcement wanted the residents of Shorewood to know that Bellio was lurking, and that he was dangerous. And even if some of these people didn't have an internet connection, we'd imagine that someone they knew did -- and likely would call them to see if they were okay. And news is spread.

The same thing happens in Los Angeles with car chases. The news stations televise them live, but many people subscribe to a free Car Chase Alert service, which emails and/or instant messages them when a chase is on television. Depending on the freeway, these viewers might call a friend or family member they know to be in the vicinity so that they'll be aware of what's going on, and to watch out. The radio stations also play a vital role in informing drivers about potentially dangerous situations like these. Trust us, there's nothing scarier than being on the freeway and hearing about a high speed chase heading your way. To people fleeing from police, your car is little more than potential collateral damage in the way of their escape.

We applaud the local news organizations for covering the events and getting out the word. And we note the unique ability of the internet to keep us all up-to-date on the story. That ought to serve as a reminder to the decision-makers in local media that they need to keep finding ways to integrate the opportunities and resources of the Internet in what they're doing. Because if they don't, someone else will...

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