I received the following email yesterday. I’ll post in full, then comment below. I’ve bolded certain portions.
There is a video currently live on the Burnaby Now’s website about the arrest by Burnaby RCMP of three suspects in a shooting earlier this week at Royal Oak SkyTrain station. It’s more than three minutes long, and lingers languidly on the blurred faces of the suspects, then follows right up until they’re brought into the cop shop for processing, access we would never get. The video is tagged with the usual driving.ca bumper ad at the beginning, but at no point during the video, or on the webpage presenting the video is it identified as being supplied by the Burnaby RCMP. In fact, the Now prominently links to the video on the front of their website, and tweeted incessantly about it Thursday morning, as if they were bequeathing their readers some sort of journalistic scoop.
An edited version of the same video also appears on the Province’s website, again with no attribution.
The other day, the Vancouver Sun’s website used still photo handouts from the RCMP of the same arrest going down. They were at least labelled as RCMP handouts, although that doesn’t absolve them.
It’s not the first time they’ve used photos identified as RCMP handout.
Of course, request RCMP-supplied photos or video of their officers shooting someone in South Surrey, and you’ll run into a stone wall.
Is this how bankrupt marginal staffing, reduced resources and diminished morale have made us, that we’re willing to accept handouts from the cops that amount to bumpf? Surely editors must see the peril of going down this road of abdicating our responsibility of being an impartial observer of police to ensure they remain accountable? We’re already struggling to cover them as it is, with more forces on digital radio systems that require expensive scanners or negotiations with the department to get access to a one-way radio that allows monitoring. The more we allow the police to control our access to observe and report their work, the more license they’ll take to further restrict our access; instead of keeping us one block from scenes, they’ll keep us back a kilometer and call our editors that they have photos and video they’ll gladly supply. And we wonder why journalists and the publications we work for are losing our audience.
We’re headed down a very dark path…
You can watch the video here, but be warned, it’s pretty boring.
There are a few issues at play here, and I’ll consider them separately.
1. First is the fact that the video isn’t identified as an RCMP video. It should be, for sure, but I have a hard time mustering that much outrage at the fact that it’s not. Indeed, I’m trying to remember if my own paper has identified RCMP-supplied footage as such. I can’t be sure. If we didn’t, we should have; it’s not hard to slide an attribution into the cutline so readers realize that the video was shot by, and for the purposes of, the RCMP.
2. The second issue is juicier.
Should media outlets stand up to the RCMP and declare that we’re not going to use their footage if we don’t get better access? Or should we simply not use footage, period?
That question revolves around whether The Province, Global and CTV get on board. They reach far more people than Burnaby Now or any other community paper. If The Province uses RCMP footage, then griping by a community newspaper journalist is going to fall on deaf ears.
I think the best argument is the one made at the end of the email ((FYI courtesy Kim Magi: email is now unhyphenated in the CP Stylebook); if we rely on RCMP footage, the cops have less reason to allow us near their scenes. Similarly, the better access we get, the less of a need for the RCMP video and images. So right now, they have very little motivation to not be so heavy-handed with photographers. Then there is the fact that, by outsourcing our coverage of breaking news, reporters and photographers become a little more expendable—which is not a good situation.
3. I’m not familiar with the difficulties the letter writer refers to as concerns the monitoring of emergency frequencies, so I’ll take his word for it.
4. There is one more issue: that of quality. The video is not extremely interesting. It certainly is less gripping than a single well-composed still photo would have been. A journalist would have done a better job. But a journalist, of course, would have been threatened with jail had he got that close.
The Northern Reporter has an interesting post on race in police stories. He noted that his paper had run a story on an arrest of a man and had identified the man as a First Nations person. You’re not supposed to do this after the person is arrested.
NR was briefed by his boss on the issue and it was dropped.
It did get me wondering, though, exactly what the purpose of the rule was. How much different can it be to call someone First Nations, or white, or whatever, than it is to call them a man or woman in a report? And what about when police are looking for someone? It seems odd we can say Joe Shmoe, Caucasian, wanted by police, but once nabbed, that little detail has to be dropped.
On the other hand, I have so little experience with real race issues that I can respect the fact that I’m talking out of my privileged ass and wouldn’t know what it’s like to be profiled based on the colour of my skin.
So, unless I hear a compelling argument otherwise, I’ll trust the CP on this one. When reporting on crime, may as well just stick to the crime and leave race out of it.
There is, it turns out, a reason for the seemingly contradictory rule and I think it’s worth sharing with this blog’s readers (again, check out the BRR’s BFF, NR.)
As I commented on his blog:
The detail is useful for helping the public help the police identify a suspect but once they’re arrested, that rationale is lost. You might as well write “a 160-pound man was arrested” or “a man wearing a black sweater” was arrested or so on.
If you don’t use those descriptors to describe people who are arrested, it doesn’t make sense to use race.
Gender is needed if only so you can use the correct pronoun. Age is also usually referred to and is probably less justifiable, but can sometimes provide colour. And since everybody ages at the same rate, it’s hard for it to be discriminatory.
The main reason race is sensitive is because when people see minorities (any minorities) constantly referred to in police reports, they tend to jump to racist conclusions like “All natives are criminals” when it is more accurate to say “impoverished people with few job prospects or training are more likely to be criminals and, at this particular point in Canadian history, First Nations men are more likely to be impoverished and have few job prospects than white men.”
Most also would probably overlook how many crimes are committed by our own race and focus on “the other.”
This blog had more visitors in February than any previous months. It’s still a one-person show, though, so any help would be great. It’s easy, quick and the pay is shite. E-mail bclocalreporter (at) gmail (dot) com.
Have I made an error? It wouldn’t be the first time. Leave a comment and I’ll shamefully update the post.
We’re making inroads into our census of B.C. community newspapers, but there are still a lot of blanks in the Journo-lust Spreadsheet. How many journalists work at your paper? How often do you come out? Who’s your publisher? Participation is free! The benefits unlimited! The exclamation points boundless!
The estranged husband of slain Salmon Arm Observer office manager Louise Phillips has been arrested and charged with second degree murder in connection with her death. For background click here and here.
The Observer story can be found here with some background and quotes from Phillips’s landlords.
Phillips, 52, had been renting a small apartment, which was attached to the main residence at 76 Timms Rd., while her husband was out-of-town doing employment training. He had returned to Salmon Arm on a reading week break.
Here’s the full RCMP release:
On Friday March 4th, 2011, the RCMP Southeast District Major Crime Unit arrested 55 yr old James Douglas Phillips in connection with the murder of his spouse 52 yr old Louise Phillips.
James Douglas Phillips who currently resides in Castlegar, BC, was arrested by RCMP investigators upon his release from hospital care at the Kelowna General Hospital Friday morning. RCMP Officers earlier this week forwarded a report to Crown Counsel, recommending consideration for a charge of second degree murder be approved along with seeking a warrant for his arrest.
With a charge approved under section 235 cc for second degree murder and arrest warrant obtained, investigators took James Douglas Phillips into custody without incident at KGH. Phillips had been hospitalized since the Salmon Arm RCMP responded to a report of a domestic disturbance at the Salmon Arm residence of Louise Phillips back on Friday evening, February 18, 2011.
Uniformed officers who were first on the scene that evening, were faced with the somber discovery of Louise Phillips dead in her home with her estranged husband on the scene and both persons suffering from apparent stab wounds. After an extensive investigation, the SED MCU team were able to submit sufficient evidence and findings to crown and deem that they believe that the death of Louise Phillips is a homicide.
“Our investigation confirmed that this matter was a domestic related disturbance and our findings indicated that couple were legally separated. James Phillips had returned to reside at the home in Salmon Arm last year off and on. Historical police records checks of the couple did not uncover any previously reported domestic violence related incidents” stated Cpl Dan Moskaluk.
Why go to the news when it can come to you.
Alaska Highway News reporter Ryan Lux spent last Friday night (Jan. 14) fighting off “a drug-addled delinquent” who burst into his Fort St. John apartment uninvited and threatened to kill him. It’s a gripping first-hand account you’ve got to read.
So this guy bursts into my apartment, clearly agitated and under the influence of drugs. Unfortunately for me, the intruder wasn’t your garden-variety dazed and confused druggy.
I asked him if anything was wrong and if there was anything I could do to help him out. He responded by locking my door behind him and charging at me, This surprised me because I had never sent the guy before and hadn’t done anything to provoke him.
He proceeded to choke me and ram my head through the wall over and over again, pummeling me with punches whenever I said anything.
Ryan had left his door unlocked, which, it turns out, was a mistake. After booting the intruder — who was threatening to kill him — in the neck, Ryan escaped to a neighbour’s and called police. They were already on their way, having received a call from another neighbour who heard the commotion.
Ryan’s first question was whether he’d have to forfeit his damage deposit because of the destruction caused by the assault (he doesn’t have insurance). He writes that Victim Services will likely cover the damage, but he’s reluctant to use the V word.
My experience was a symptom of the underside of our community rearing it’s ugly head – in my living room of all places – and I suppose for a reporter it has broadened my understanding of society’s criminal element and how they intersect with the justice system.
Again, read the whole thing here.