Enhancing digital news

— John Costa / The Bulletin /

Published Sep 8, 2013 at 05:00AM

There is little doubt that digital distribution is changing how news organizations, including The Bulletin, are delivering information.

That change is good, and even if it weren’t, it is inevitable. But it does bring challenges to traditional ethics and standards.

An example occurred this week when a Redmond reserve police officer struck someone outside a bowling alley, an act a bystander caught on video.

From the beginning:

The Bulletin is in the process of making substantial enhancements in digital news reporting, editing and delivery.

One of our first additions was the hiring of a dedicated videographer. The addition of multiple slide shows and fresh videos on a regular basis has significantly increased the number of folks who come to The Bulletin for information.

The videographer is just one element. There are multiple folks now in news and technology services who are teaming — and successfully — to bring more eyes to what we do.

Moving ahead. Tuesday evening, the acting city editor reported that we had a new story.

A man, Michael Irby, had been asked to leave the front of Lava Lanes bowling alley after, according to the owner, threatening employees and causing a disturbance.

Onto the scene came Redmond reserve police officer Brian Alvarez, who was arriving to go bowling.

The editor told me that Alvarez had snatched a hatchet from Irby and hit him with it. Moreover, a bystander had recorded the incident and given us a copy for our use.

The first question was: Do we post the video on our website and promote it via social media?

No doubt about it, the video, which showed Alvarez hitting Irby in the head with the handle of the hatchet, would go viral if we promoted it, and our viewer numbers would multiply.

Our reporters confirmed most of the details of the bowling alley incident, as recorded.

But the key question, it seems to me, is whether sending a video to the world inflates the essential importance of the story, or leaves a misimpression.

It ended with no arrests and is still under investigation by Bend police.

Don’t get me wrong. A reserve policeman struck someone, and that raises important questions.

But the man he struck, as the video showed, was highly profane, belligerent and aggressively defiant when Alvarez, who identified himself as an officer, told him to leave the property of the bowling alley.

No, Alvarez did not appear to produce a badge, as Irby demanded, but not many people go bowling with a hatchet and the next day, records show, Irby was arrested and charged with harassment and criminal trespass in another incident.

There were that night, and still are, many unanswered, directly pertinent questions. How meaningful, for instance, is not producing or having a badge?

But we had to make decisions that night, knowing we’ll fill in the blanks as time goes by. That’s the strength and weakness of the news business.

Our decision that night, I believe, was the right one.

Edit the near 10-minute recording down to the essential and confirmed elements in the story, mask the faces of the bowling alley visitors who wandered between the recorder and the incident, and eliminate as much of Irby’s nonstop profanity as we could.

And we decided not to promote it via social media.

This may well be hopelessly anachronistic, but I don’t think we need hyperbole to build a digital audience.

We can do it the right way.

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