Facebook as a news tool

Posted on 16. Nov, 2011 by

This photo from this morning's wreck has created a lot of discussion about the posting of such photos on the Messenger Facebook page.

This photo from this morning's wreck has created a lot of discussion about the posting of such photos on the Messenger Facebook page.

For the past couple of years, the Wise County Messenger has used Facebook as a way to get news to the public, joining other products such as the newspaper, Update (both printed and online), Twitter and our website. The great thing about Facebook is how quickly we can get news to our readers and the almost instant feedback we get from our readers. It’s a good and bad thing, apparently.

We’ve always covered major wrecks in the county. Like it or not, people want to know the details. Where is it at? Who is involved? How badly are they hurt? Is traffic blocked? We strive to bring you the answers as quickly as we can.

However, not all of our Facebook followers like us posting information about wrecks – particularly photos and names of victims. I thought I’d take this opportunity to explain our policies on posting information on wrecks.

If a wreck involves a fatality, we post general information about the wreck without names of victims or photos. This is something we changed a while back due to complaints from readers and concerns from the Department of Public Safety officers who are in charge of notifying the family of fatality victims. We changed our policy accordingly.

For wrecks that do not involve a fatality, we treat it like we would treat posting breaking news on our website – photos, names, as much information as we can provide.

If you’ve visited our Facebook page today, you will see that there is once again a bit of discussion going on about our posting of wreck information. Several people have commented that we should not post anything about a wreck until after we confirm that family has been notified.

Here’s why we do it. First, for the reasons listed above regarding answering questions that people have. News travels fast in the county, and we believe in providing the public with as much details as possible in the quickest way possible. If I believed a loved one might have been involved in a wreck, I think I would use every tool at my disposal to find out as much as possible – including the local newspaper’s Facebook page. At the very least, I might be able to find out which hospital my loved one was taken to.

Secondly, imagine if we instituted a policy where we waited until family was notified. Here are the problems: first, who is family? Is it a wife? Is it parents? Who all should be notified before “the family” has been notified? Also, it can sometime take hours for officers to reach a family member. If we waited until we had confirmation that a family member had been notified (if we could ever receive confirmation at all), the news would be stale. People would wait for hours to find out why they were stuck in traffic or had to be rerouted. With the advent of smart phones and social media, people expect to find out answers now, not later.

It boils down to a simple ethical question that journalists have used since the beginning of newspapers: does the news value of an event outweigh the potential negative impact that reporting the news would have on certain individuals? While every situation is weighed individually, our general rule, as stated above, is to draw the line at fatalities.

Interestingly, Facebook comments regarding wreck postings generally fall into three categories: 1. People asking for more details. 2. People saying they are keeping the victims in their prayers. 3. People who complain that we shouldn’t be posting details of the wreck. As you can see, especially with one and three, different people have very different expectations of what kind of information we should provide.

As always, we’d love to hear more of your feedback – do you agree with our policy or would you like to see it changed once again?

14 Responses to “Facebook as a news tool”

  1. charlotte Boeker

    16. Nov, 2011

    There is ALWAYS going to be someone that has a problem with everything. News is news…be it the newspaper or online…Personally I don’s see the problem with posting it. In fact “I” might be trying to get to work on time and can take another route cos of the wreck. I wouldn’t post their names…but its dumb for anyone to think no one is going to know or find out about it before next of kin.

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  2. Sandy Farris

    16. Nov, 2011

    I think you should keep doing it how you are. A while back I recieved a call about some kids I knew in a wreck… by the time the “grapevine” got me the info I was told one was dead… didn’t know which one and no info on where they were taken. I would very much have liked it if the Messenger would have posted, it would have saved time in notifing everyone and would have gotten MUCH more acurate information!

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  3. Stephanie

    16. Nov, 2011

    I agree completly and thank you for posting the information as quickly as possible!

    Reply to this comment
  4. Jearene

    16. Nov, 2011

    I do not have a problem with you posting info on wrecks in our area. What I have a problem with is the photos. Some of the photos even have license plate numbers in them. Having had someone close involved in an awful accident once and seeing how their family found out before notification by authorities. They were frantic and nobody could give them proper information and they scurried from site to hospitals and frantically placed calls. They saw media coverage of the horrific accident and still could get no info about their loved ones. Hours afterward they found out their loved ones were deceased. I don’t think anyone should find out that way. Waiting for authorities to notify loved ones with accurate information should be respected.

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  5. Stacy

    16. Nov, 2011

    I agree with your policies.
    Although I did look at the image today on fb & hoped that everyone survived. It’s comforting to know that pics & names will not be posted in the event of a fatality.

    Reply to this comment
  6. Alicia R

    16. Nov, 2011

    I completely agree with your policy. I don’t watch the general news because to me I’d rather not hear about all that gloom and doom – I get enough of that in my studies. So these people who complain, what kind of news are they expecting? Most of what happens in Wise County are wrecks on a regular basis. Since they aren’t going to be getting much news any better than that, I don’t see why they are even paying attention to the messenger. It’s wrecks, deaths, taxes, hearings, etc. I’m sure there are other places they can find out information on high school football games if that’s all they’re concerned about. News is news and the people who want to hear it have to get thick skin and realize these are the kinds of things that happen. Personally, being far from Wise County, I keep up with the Messenger to stay updated on things that could affect my family. If there was a wreck, this may be the fastest way I would be able to find out which is crucial to me if I need to travel up there in a timely manner. Therefore, thank you for making me feel like I am that much more in touch with issues surrounding my family and their safety.

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  7. Skip Nichols

    16. Nov, 2011

    I agree with the Messenger …

    Reply to this comment
  8. Will

    16. Nov, 2011

    I don’t have a problem with y’all covering wrecks. I understand that’s what the people want to read about and get their information. However, what I do absolutely not understand and approve of is some of the pictures y’all post. I’ve seen some pretty sorry pictures in the past. Such as; family members hugging each other on the side after they have found out another member of their family has just died, and yall also have a picture of the victims shoe laying in the road. I understand sharing info on the wreck but to post those kinda pictures without consent from the family is just plain sorry! What if this was a family member of yours? Would you like me stopping by to get your reaction on camera? Maybe you should think about the victims side instead of worrying about ratings for your paper!

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  9. mary

    16. Nov, 2011

    It’s the photo. I still have etched in my head the photo of my grandmothers fatal accident placed on the front page of the WCM. Roy Eaton was Editor then and I complained how awful it was to see that on my local newspaper. An article is good and informative, a picture is cruel. I have lived in three other bigger cities now and traffic was awful in two of them. Not one crash photo on the front, middle, or back of those newspapers unless a plane landed on a house! If traffic is a concern in Wise County, then I have to laugh. Real newspapers around the country do not place photos of accidents in their paper, because there happens to be more important news that should be covered.

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  10. Michael Loucks

    16. Nov, 2011

    I think there is something to say for the speed of the information provided, ie. lane closures, traffic, detours, etc. But the details that are sometimes provided are unnecessary and untrue. Example, a little over a year ago i lost a friend to an accident on 380, the initial update report included a quote from a “witness” that was travelling in the opposite direction, citing excessive speed as a cause. But yet anyone who was close to the victim KNOWS that speed wasnt a factor, much less “excessive speed”. i also had to look at the pictures in the Messenger of the aftermath of the wreck and it is sick to imagine what she went through, and to be given a visual for the rest of my life of how she died, and to know exactly how her fiance was trapped with her for an hour as she passed on, is not fair to friends and family to be subjected too.
    My point is reporting breaking news to Wise county is not gruesome or sinful in the slightest, but providing lasting images for folks to stumble upon in situations like that shouldnt be a part of the job description. If folks want to know what the car looked like after they pried dead corpse out of it, run to the junkyard and take a look, but i have always been against the pictures being published.
    So maybe that means more public interest stories of how Mrs. Buford knitted a stocking cap for Willie Mays back in 1958, but so be it. Please stop the wreckage photos..

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  11. Nan Witters

    16. Nov, 2011

    We live in Arizona, however a dear relative has moved to
    Wise County TX. This is one way we can know what is going on in the area. If there is an automobile accident, I am
    quite interested in where it occured, what vehicles were involved, how serious it was etc. We would eventually be
    notified, however it is a relief to see that it not one of
    their vehicles that was in an accident. Please continue with your accurate reporting. That’s part of what you are
    there to do. Thank you.

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  12. Nan Witters

    16. Nov, 2011

    Thank you for your acknowledgement.

    Reply to this comment
  13. Shirley

    16. Nov, 2011

    I agree with your policy. As journalists for a news outlet you have a RESPONSIBILITY to report the news as quickly as possible. If people want to wait for the news to “knock on their door” they have the right not to “tune in” to news or to delete news outlets from their friends list.

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  14. Ricardo Perry

    17. Nov, 2011

    Nothing wrong with your policies. Most folks are sensible, it’s the vocal minority that makes these types of non-issues come to the forefront.

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