I’m no genius. I’ve made mistakes and will likely make a few more. But there are a few fundamentals about the news business that too often get forgotten in this era of budget restraint and I find it deeply disappointing.
The other day, some fool tried to rob a bank here in London. He was unsuccessful. When a suspect was arrested, police issued the customary news release. It stated that a 32 year old St. Thomas man was in custody. Police believe he is the guy who tried to rob the bank and then took off in a taxi, which he didn’t pay for. Among his charges was threatening with a dangerous weapon.
Nowhere in the release was a weapon mentioned, other than the actual charge. I read it a second and third time. No weapon. I got in touch with the media relations officer and asked, why the weapon charge? He replied that the robber had claimed to have a knife but he actually threatened the bank employees with a pen. The weapon was a pen! What an awesome detail to the story. This loser goes into a bank armed with a writing instrument and tries to bluff that he has a knife. The employees see through his ruse, aren’t frightened by the pen and he gets away empty-handed, but not before ripping off a cabbie. He was caught pretty quickly. Beautiful.
I checked the updated stories by other media the next morning and not one of them had the knife/pen detail. To me, it’s a natural question: if there is a weapon charge, what was the weapon? If you live anywhere near the bank you’d want to know if the guy took off through your neighbourhood with a loaded gun…or a pen. One of the fundamentals of being a journalist is to be inquisitive and to question things, like obviously missing details. I only wish I could have gone on the air that day.