God forbid we ever have a terror situation here in Detroit, but if we were to rely on our local news stations for information in such a crisis, we'd surely be screwed.
Last night, maybe, supposedly, allegedly, who even knows, something happened at Hart Plaza, one of the best viewing spots for the annual Ford Fireworks along the Detroit River. WXYZ called it a "chaotic scene." WDIV said it was a "scare" with "tense moments." WJBK said one reporter saw hundreds of people running from the scene.
What no one could agree on is what exactly caused this scenario.
WXYZ: "Minutes into tonight's Detroit fireworks mass chaos broke out just blocks from Hart Plaza as people began running from what they believed to be gunshots. WXYZ-TV crews on the scene are being told that shots may have been fired. However, the Detroit Police Public Information Officer is telling us that they cannot confirm that any shots were fired."
WDIV: "Witnesses tell Local 4 that right after the fireworks show got started on the Detroit River a crowd of people, who thought shots were being fired in the area, ran for safety. Detroit police told Local 4 there were no shots fired Monday night downtown despite witness reports. Many people said they thought shots were fired."
WJBK: "Sources told Fox 2's Andrea Isom shots were fired in downtown Detroit near the fireworks show on the Detroit River."
So basically, "We can't confirm there was a shooting but there may have been a shooting" is what I get from this.
The night's biggest offender, WXYZ continued to run on the assumption that it was gunshots that caused the commotion by posting its speculative, free-of-detail report on Facebook.
But then, after people were sufficiently frightened of ever coming back south of 8 Mile and the obligatory "LOLDETROIT" comments filled in, WXYZ anchor Stephen "If it's on WXYZ.com, it must be true" Clark backtracked and #backchannel-ed some of his station's reporting.
to be clear—- we know there was a panic... we haven't confirmed any gunfire or injuries. #backchannel— Stephen Clark (@stephenclark) June 25, 2013
And also took time out for some more relevant details:
But then informed us of WXYZ's newsgathering policy of "hey, it's not our job to confirm information!"
And (unintentionally?) 1. let us know about the station's other policy of just going with speculation — because who needs an official word? and 2. Told us that yelling "fire" in a crowded room is news enough:
If I'm in a crowd with my kids and somebody shouts GUNFIRE! I don't think I'm going to wait 'til its confirmed. #backchannel— Stephen Clark (@stephenclark) June 25, 2013
And then...agreed that WXYZ kinda sorta fucked up?
Finally, WXYZ concluded with...
UPDATE: Police say no evidence of shots fired near Detroit fireworks. http://t.co/LcJ5yu6f4u— WXYZ Detroit (@wxyzdetroit) June 25, 2013
Our print media fared better with actual police input (which is good! Actual sources!), though they were still split on what happened exactly:
(Afrenzy! *adds to possible names of my future child*) Or:
And lest we leave out news radio, which decided to ride on the Unconfirmed Express even though it also spoke to police:
So it's safe to say that in times of panic, we still haven't learned exactly how to inform the public about what exactly is going on. Boston marathon coverage, anyone?
To be sure, violence at the annual fireworks show has happened in the past and is bizarrely accepted as the norm. And no one is disagreeing that violent events should not be reported.
But what if maybe, just maybe, things changed for the better this year? And what if it wasn't gunshots, but maybe some other disturbance? Firecrackers? Echoes of the fireworks mistaken for gunshots? Car backfire? Aren't we all a little on edge these days? I get nervous hearing a balloon pop, honestly.
To run on presumption and presumption alone that it was gunshots speaks more to the thirst of our local media to put more blood on the airwaves than to actually do some responsible reporting. (WXYZ's ragged coverage side by side with that uber-boosting "Detroit 2020" series is especially disappointing and lets me know exactly where their priorities are.)
More importantly, with people really wanting Detroit to be this world-class city attracting all these young, millenial minds that are going to change the world through public art displays and food trucks and shit, shouldn't we demand world-class journalism to go along with it?
[Photo via AP]