Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

September 19, 2012

A simple mispronunciation leads to a breakdown in communication with the Big Apple

— — When a big news story breaks in our region, it’s not unusual for the national news media to come calling. Such was the case during the deadly campus shootings at the Appalachian School of Law in Grundy and later the massacre on the campus of Virginia Tech.

In both instances, our newsroom was flooded with phone calls from the outside media  scrambling to get information about the campus shootings. We were the closest daily newspaper to both of the impacted communities. As a result, the national media outlets called us first.

In fact, it’s not that unusual for outside media sources to contact us for information regarding local cases. It happens a lot, and such was the case last week. However, the lines of communication were a little bit muddied — at least initially — last week.

It all began on the evening of the Greater Bluefield Chamber of Commerce’s joint Business After Hours Block Party held here at the newspaper, and the adjoining lot of our next-door neighbor, Adventure Communications. While outside mingling with folks in attendance (and enjoying some of the great food at the same time), I was asked by Publisher Darryl Hudson to locate photographer Jon Bolt.

I walked upstairs in search of Jon. However, as I re-entered the newsroom, I found out obituary clerk Teresa Jeffery and reporter Katy Coil had been on the telephone with a newspaper from New York. Teresa, who had the New York Daily News on hold, asked me if I could take the phone call, which I did. She warned me in advance that they were seeking information about a “Barbara Flick.”

The name didn’t ring a bell with me. As I took the call, a gentleman on the other end of the line proceeded to ask me if I was familiar with the name, and began quizzing me about an article he said I had written in 2011 about a Barbara Flick. As is our protocol, I asked him first if he was interviewing me — as such an interview would require prior approval from Editor Samantha Perry. He assured me he wasn’t quoting me. At that point, I told him the name didn’t ring a bell with me, and asked him to give me a few seconds to search the name on our website’s search engine. I couldn’t find a match for the name “Barbara Flick.”

At that point, Katy stepped in, and told me the name they were talking about was “Barbara Flake,” not “Barbara Flick.” Both Teresa and I thought the gentleman on the other end of the phone was saying “Flick.” Once Katy said “Flake” I realized they were referring to an unsolved 2002 cold case homicide from McDowell County. Then things started to make sense. But the questions kept coming.

Telephone calls soon followed by The New York Post, a television station in New York, additional calls from the New York Daily News, and even the Associated Press all asking the same questions. In addition to asking about Flake, we also were asked about a 1989 murder case in McDowell County, and a 2004 abduction case in Tazewell County. The New York media was looking into an apparent link between a suspect charged in connection with a rape at Central Park and several cases right here in southern West Virginia, including the cold case being worked by the West Virginia State Police.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to remember things that happened yesterday — more or less a case from 1989. Complicating matters was the fact that I didn’t work at the newspaper in 1989. I was just a college student at the time.

I called Editor Samantha Perry — not long after she left the newsroom — and we attempted to sort out all of the confusion involving the suspect in the New York rape and the unrelated cases in southern West Virginia and Southwest Virginia.

The next morning I called First Sgt. J.R. Pauley, district commander of the state police detachments in Princeton and Welch. If there was a connection between the local cases, and the story developing out of New York, we wanted to makes sure we had the story.

Despite the initial confusion, things ultimately came together quite well. I spoke with Pauley that morning, but didn’t really have to write a story. That’s because a very detailed piece concerning the connections between the suspect in the Central Park rape and the cold case out of McDowell County was moved by the Associated Press within the hour. I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly the AP moved a story, and the great level of detail included in the article.

At the end of the day, the pieces of the once confusing puzzle began to make sense. And finally the phone calls from New York stopped rolling into the newsroom. Suddenly, there was a brief but welcomed reprieve from the phone calls coming from our friends in the Big Apple.

Charles Owens is the Daily Telegraph’s assistant managing editor. Contact him at cowens@bdtonline.com. Follow him @BDTOwens.

 

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