Posted on 16. Nov, 2011 by
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?