By SAMANTHA PERRY
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Early last week reporter Kate Coil popped her head into my office door and jokingly accused me of sacrificing a goat to the news gods during my recent vacation. I raised my brow and gave her my best sardonic smile.
After the continuation of a crazy week, I walked through the newsroom late Thursday afternoon and overheard a conversation between Assistant Managing Editor Charles Owens and Senior Reporter Greg Jordan, both were suggesting I’d probably sacrificed at least “two goats.”
For the record, I practice no pagan religions, beliefs, practices or sacrifices (except for the occasional spider). I love animals, and was raised in a Christian home. But I must admit a cloud of mayhem does seem to follow me around at times.
During my week of vacation news was slow. I know this because I am a fanatical paper reader and because I am constantly in touch with our newsroom — even on my days off.
Although our stories were strong that week, there were not a lot of big, breaking news headlines. It’s an up-and-down cycle. Feast or famine. When I returned to work on Monday, breaking news seemed to return. I call it coincidence.
In a newsroom, we eat, breath and live by the news cycle. We don’t want bad things to happen. But, if they do, we want to be the first to report it. Years ago, before the glorious age of the Internet, we were on a 24-hour news deadline. Not anymore.
With our online edition, bdtonline.com, and our video site, bdtvideo.com, we keep readers up to date throughout the day. It’s all day, every day — and we love it that way.
When we heard reports Tuesday morning there had been a shooting in Bluefield the night before, our reporters were all over the story. By 9 a.m. we knew something bad had happened. The trick was getting the details.
Greg, Charles and I began making calls. Around 10 a.m. we learned two people had been shot, one fatally, and a suspect was in custody. We posted the news to our website and, shortly thereafter, Greg was on his way to the suspect’s detainment hearing.
Throughout the afternoon, I found myself doing a lot of explaining about court hearings — especially after another news agency incorrectly reported the suspect had been arraigned.
Usually a suspect’s first court appearance is an arraignment, held for the purpose of setting bond. But in the case of first-degree murder a suspect must be arraigned before a circuit court judge. Since no circuit court judges were available in Mercer County last Tuesday, the suspect had a detainment hearing before a magistrate.
It may seem like a small detail but accuracy is important.
“Exclusive: Journalism. a piece of news, or the reporting of a piece of news, obtained by a newspaper or other news organization along with the privilege of using it first. (From dictionary.com.)”
The use of the word “exclusive” was also a topic of discussion in our newsroom last week. When we first posted a report of the Bluefield shooting on our online edition we tagged the story as “exclusive” since no other news agencies were yet reporting the story. When local television stations later picked up the report, we dropped “exclusive” from our headlines.
In an interesting twist to this story the suspect in the murder admitted to the crime to reporters at his detainment (not arraignment) hearing. The Telegraph had video of this confession posted to our website by noon that day. Hours later a local TV station posted a similar video and tagged it “exclusive.”
The broadcast of such video on television airwaves by only one news agency is certainly an exclusive. However, posting the video on a website after another news agency has already shown it (including a newspaper, because we do now have video) is not an exclusive.
Again, it’s all about accuracy.
The week of breaking news continued on Wednesday when the suspect in the Bluefield shooting committed suicide in the city jail. And, on Thursday, more big headlines materialized with an arrest in a 16-year-old cold case, a structure fire and more (thus the “two goats” reference).
When scanner traffic indicated a possible plane down in Mercer County Thursday evening, I received more than a few grimaces and dirty looks from the reporting staff.
Fortunately, the “plane down” turned out to be a remote-controlled plane and not a real one carrying passengers.
Working at a newspaper, one never knows what the day will bring. The job can be slow, although that’s rare, or fast-paced and frantic. It all depends on whether the proverbial news gods are scowling, smiling or dancing drunkenly around a beer keg.
Whatever the case, we’ll keep you posted, accurately, in print and online, via email and Twitter. And we’ll even include video.
Samantha Perry is editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her @BDTPerry.