Should journalists live tweet what they hear on police scanners during mass shootings?
When I was in journalism school there wasn’t a class on best practices for reporting a mass shooting. But my guess is it won’t be long until a class like that makes a J-school course list somewhere. Maybe even here in Colorado. In the meantime, the two latest mass shootings in Colorado Springs— about a month apart no less— tested journalism ethics in at least two respects. The first, which I dealt with in a previous newsletter, was whether media should report the names of suspects and victims before authorities do. I’m all for it under certain circumstances. The latest, however, is how reporters should handle live-tweeting what they hear on public police scanner traffic during an active shooter scenario.
A controversy over just that hit Colorado during the Planned Parenthood attack. Since I wasn’t in the country when this happened I’m not going to pretend I was on top of all the details in real time— so I’m punting to this piece about the circumstances, published on Medium by Detroit writer Alan Stamm.
The gist is that an experienced reporter for The Gazette in Colorado Springs was live-tweeting what she heard on a public police scanner as the rampage unfolded. She tweeted about where police were stationed and what they were saying about tactical maneuvers. A prominent Denver-based TV anchor posted on Twitter that she was putting lives in danger by broadcasting such details. The Colorado Division of Homeland Security urged the reporter to stop calling it a “live safety issue.” The print reporter’s editor backed up the reporter’s decisions to tweet, saying doing so was an effort to provide updates to the public. There was a contentious conversation on Twitter about the ethics of doing so, which is collected in Stamm’s piece.
Congratulations! You’re a winner in the new America!
Speaking of the Planned Parenthood shooting, here’s something I hadn’t seen before: Last week, a court hearing for the man accused in the attack drew so much media attention that state officials had to conduct an on-the-spot lottery for a chance to win one of 25 coveted press seats available inside in the courtroom. Reporters put their business cards in a box, and the spokesman for the state court administrator drew 20 of them at random. I thought it was nice of organizers to automatically give reporters for the local daily newspaper and four local TV stations a ticket. As a writer for the Denver-based Colorado Independent I had to try my luck in the draw. So here’s what a winning media lottery ticket looks like in the new America. Others who won were CNN, The Associated Press, The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today, CBS, NBC, New York Daily News, and The Denver Post, among others. You can read my write-up from the hearing here.
Want to talk to reporters about how you think media should cover mass shootings? Colorado Public Radio wants your perspective.
Accusation: A county commissioner in Colorado violated the Sunshine Law by talking to a reporter?
Well, this is a new one. According to a story in The Columbine Courier in southern Jefferson County, a county commissioner there is accusing another of violating the state’s Open Meetings law by talking to a reporter. The piece at The Courier is paywalled, but the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition has a blog post about it here.
Basically, there was a meeting about bike lanes, and afterwards a county commissioner spoke to a reporter about the the commission’s vote to delay making a final decision. The accusing commissioner said he thought the deliberative process was corrupted because of that conversation with a reporter.
From the report:
“To be up front, and I know that the county attorney is aware of my concerns; this was a hearing that was continued, and there’s been discussions outside of this hearing in regard to different items. I don’t feel that has been appropriate,” [the accusing commissioner] said. “… When anything is published, when anything is discussed outside an active hearing, it has impacts to that hearing. … I believe there’s been a violation of open meetings.”
Your local Colorado politicians at work: Pissing on a jail cell floor — and more!
You’ve really got to hand it to a former Snowmass Village town councilman who pleaded guilty recently to criminal mischief and drunken driving. He sure knows how to party. Consider the ways in which he racked up more than $13,000 in damages to his jail cell after he got busted.
From The Aspen Times:
After he was transported to the Pitkin County Jail and placed in a cell, [he] peed on the floor, repeatedly banged on the cell door and windows, cussed out jail officers and eventually had to be forcibly restrained in a chair. In addition, he tore off pieces of the cell’s rubber wall, exposed electrical wiring and damaged lights in the cell.
Sounds like a real piece of work. But while a local government official running amok like this is embarrassing for sure, it’s more so on a personal level than, say, the Grand County commissioner who recently pleaded no contest to public embezzlement charges and resigned. Or, say, the Elbert County commissioner whose refusal to pay a $1,000 fine is now racking up tens of thousands of dollars in taxpayer money in court fees.
Colorado might have a reputation for clean government at the state level, but that might not be the case for our local public officials out there in the provinces. Speaking to that, Luis Toro, director of the nonprofit Colorado Ethics Watch, penned a column for The Colorado Independent titled “Why petty corruption matters” that puts those last two cases above in perspective.
From the piece:
Colorado’s reputation as a clean-government state stems from our insistence that public officials adhere to the highest standards of conduct. That means any public corruption, even those involving small dollar figures, must be taken seriously. As special prosecutor Bruce Brown said about the James Newberry case, “The integrity of our government rests on the ethics of individuals elected to be stewards of the public’s trust.”
Colorado will keep its clean-government reputation, Toro writes, “so long as the public continues to demand accountability in even the smallest cases of public corruption.”
Steamboat city council: What we find could be embarrassing, so let’s not look too hard, mmmkay?
See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. That’s the message the city council of Steamboat Springs seems to be sending. Already reeling from a public relations nightmare following the ouster of its city manager and top cops, the city council apparently just doesn’t want to know what other god-awful things might be uncovered lest anyone look deeper into an internal investigation of the local police department.
Scott Franz of Steamboat Today has a story on the council’s 4-3 vote against releasing any more information to the public. What had the internal investigation already found, though?
From the piece:
In her final hours in City Hall, former City Manager Deb Hinsvark said an independent investigator found a “paramilitary culture” at the department, but several of the findings from the investigation have been withheld from the public.
One councilman wanted a new summary of the probe, which would have “answered such questions as whether there was a ticket quota and whether officers swore a new oath after the passage of Amendment 64 as alleged by a former police detective.” (Amendment 64 legalized recreational marijuana in Colorado.)
What you missed on the front pages across Colorado this Sunday
Didn’t get a chance to read the stories important enough to make the front pages of nearly a dozen daily newspapers around Colorado this week? Here’s a roundup of what you might have missed on The Big News Day from the local dailies.
In The Greeley Tribune, reporter Tyler Silvy had a front-page report headlined ‘ACCESS DENIED‘ about how Weld County high schools were hit with multiple disability access violations— even after multimillion-dollar construction projects.
In The Longmont Times-Call, a story about Longmont’s fracking ban going before the state Supreme Court.
The Steamboat Pilot & Today asked if Routt County can work together to better prevent suicide.
The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel reported of a recreational “madhouse” near Crested Butte. (Among other things, “a naked hiker made female students uncomfortable.”)
In ‘GLIMPSE OF CHAOS‘ The Gazette in Colorado Springs reported on how interviews and radio traffic depicted moments of the Planned Parenthood attack.
The Coloradoan in Fort Collins tackled “Tiny homes, BIG QUESTIONS” (Web version comes with a video.)
The Daily Camera in Boulder asks ‘CU: What’s driving cost overruns?’
In ‘FORGING AHEAD,’ The Denver Post looks at Pueblo as a city trying to diversify its industrial base beyond heavy industry for a more sustainable economic future.
The Durango Herald reports on how abandoned mine cleanup in Colorado could cost $1 billion
Colorado Public Radio gives us the hows and whys that keep some court records in Colorado sealed
Colorado is not a state known for its best practices when it comes to government transparency. The lowest score for Colorado — an ‘F’ grade— in this year’s State Integrity Investigation grading states on 14 areas of state government came in the category for access to information. Rick Wagner of The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel recently opined on this in his newspaper. The Denver Post recently reported on its own problems getting access to public records.
In two recent national news events— mass shootings in Colorado Springs— public entities did not exactly rise to the occasion when it came to being efficient and forthright with information. Members of the media reported the names of suspects and victims when authorities refused. Local police released 911 tapes related to a shooting only after a witness called out a dispatcher and the city felt the need to defend that dispatcher.
Now, reporters find documents related to the Planned Parenthood shooting are under seal by a judge’s order. Colorado Public Radio has a piece explaining just how that happens in Colorado, and how members of the press can push for better transparency in the process.
From Megan Arellano at CPR:
…a member of the public can file a motion to unseal the records. If the judge in the case agrees with the rationale for unsealing the document, then the documents become part of the public record.
“It’s an extremely high burden on the party wishing to maintain the sealing,” said attorney Steven Zansberg. “The public has a presumptive right to attend judicial proceedings and to inspect records that are filed in our courts.”
So unless there is a compelling state interest to justify keeping a record sealed, like a defendant’s right to a fair trial, it’s hard to maintain forever. In addition to that, the party seeking to justify sealing records must also show that there is “no less restrictive means” to protect the state’s interest, says Zansberg.
So let’s start challenging some of these seals, shall we? The Denver Post editorial board, meanwhile, has opined that the Planned Parenthood shooting case should be open to the public.
Last Thing. No politics on the Colorado River, OK?
So let me apologize, by the way, for the lack of newsletters in the past two weeks— I’d been on vacation in Central America. But even while 30,000 feet above the Pacific Ocean I couldn’t escape Colorado. On the cover of the United Airlines in-flight magazine Hemispheres was a feature story titled “Three perfect days: Colorado Rockies.” And in it there was some advice from a man who made a life as a restaurateur and fly-fishing guide in Vail when his truck broke down there years ago. “I have to tell folks not to talk politics sometimes,” he told the author while on a guided fly-fishing trip on the Colorado River. “It’s like, ‘Come on, we’re fishing!’”
This roundup appears as a published version of a weekly e-mailed newsletter about Colorado local news and media. If you’d like to add your e-mail address, please subscribe HERE.
Photo credit: Nakeva Corothers, Creative Commons, Flickr.