By Paul Gillin | November 25, 2011 - 7:35 pm - Posted in Citizen Journalism, Future of Journalism, Local news, Newspapers, OnlineMedia

News coverage of a fatal single-car crash that occurred early on Thanksgiving Day in our home town of Framingham, MA spotlights the tradeoffs between traditional news reporting and the less constrained world of the real-time Internet. Look at the distinctions between them and tell us what you think.

The first report of the crash came from Framingham Patch, the one-person news bureau that covers the town for AOL’s Patch network. It reported  Thursday morning that a vehicle had struck a utility pole and tree at about 3:30 a.m. and that an occupant may have been killed. The news of the fatality wasn’t confirmed, but was speculation based upon police scanner requests for a medical examiner and accident reconstruction team.

It was nearly a full day before Patch published a more complete account of the accident, republished here unedited and in its entirety. The latest version is here.

Junior Koga Killed in Franklin St. Crash; Wife Pregnant

Framingham accident victim Ricardo JuniorMembers of the Framingham Brazilian community were discussing the death of Junior Koga on WSRO radio in Portuguese, on Twitter and even on Framingham Patch Thanksgiving day.

Friends say Junior Koga is man who crashed into a pole and then slammed into a tree killing himself on Franklin Street, early Thanksgiving morning around 3:10 a.m.

Framingham Police and other authorities have not returned calls or emails about the fatal crash. No official identification of the driver has been released.

At the scene, Thanksgiving morning Framingham Police requested, on the scanner, for the Massachusetts State Police reconstruction team, the Middlesex District Attorney’s office and the medical examiner.

Friends say Koga’s wife is pregnant. Koga, according to friends is a Brazilian national from Santa Catarina, a state in South Brazil. One friend said his wife is due to give birth in a couple of weeks. Koga is employed as a mechanic and lives in Framingham, according to friends. He is in his 30s.

Thiago Prado commented on Framingham Patch Thursday “very very sad news – Junior we gonna miss you.”

Nayara Martins, who tweeted the Framingham Patch video of the accident, also tweeted “Hate to see once again another life cut short so quickly because of driving drunk. When are people going to learn?! <|3 #RIPJunior”

Friends tell Framingham Patch Koga “came back from a night club, was brought to his home and got into his own car to go out again.”

Friends said they suspect alcohol may have been involved.

Police are still investigating, and have not released any information on the fatal crash, including an identification.

The crash happened just after the Mt. Wayte Shopping Center at 384 Franklin St.

At the scene, Framingham Police blocked off the road. The Framingham Fire department placed a sheet over the car lodged into the tree and then added a second sheet to block the scene, while awaiting the State Police reconstruction team, which was coming from another Thanksgiving fatality in Freetown.

A neighbor near the crash, who didn’t wish to be identified, said the driver was partially ejected from the car. “It is a nasty scene,” he said.

Nearly 10 hours after the Framingham Patch report appeared, the local Metrowest Daily News reported its version of the story, again reprinted here in its entirety.

Framingham man dies in car crash

A 31-year-old Framingham man died early Thanksgiving morning after crashing into a telephone pole and then a tree on Franklin Street, police said today.

Ricardo Junior, of 67 Georgetown Drive, was the only person involved in the one-vehicle crash, which happened at about 3:10 a.m. yesterday, police said.

“It looks like he was killed on impact,” Deputy Police Chief Craig Davis said.

Davis said alcohol may have been a factor, as police found several Heineken beer bottles in the vehicle Junior was driving. Some of the bottles were full, and others were broken, he said.

“The initial indication is the cause is excessive speed,” Davis said. “There was an excessive amount of damage to the car.”

Junior crashed in the 300-block of Franklin Street, near Newton Place, Davis said.

We were struck by several contrasts between the coverage by these two outlets and the questions they raise about the conventional rules of sourcing in this tweet-saturated times. The spelling, formatting and grammatical mistakes aside, it’s unlikely that the Patch story would have ever made it past the desk of an editor at a metro daily.  Among the factual holes are:

  • The identity of the victim is unconfirmed and an age and address aren’t supplied.
  • Most of the details about the crash and the victim are sourced to unidentified friends.
  • Details about the reported pregnancy of the victim’s wife are sketchy and unconfirmed.
  • The police would neither confirm nor comment upon any of the facts in the story.
  • Perhaps most importantly, allegations that the driver was drunk are raised by unidentified “friends” but never confirmed.

Junior on Facebook

In fact, the Patch story got an important fact wrong: the victim’s real name was Ricardo Junior, not Junior Koga. Other than that, though, Patch provided more information and better context than the official account published by the local newspaper. And it did so nearly 10 hours earlier.

Among the unique details in the Patch story are a photo, news that the victim’s wife is pregnant (unconfirmed, but likely, given the photo on Junior’s Facebook page), the location of his home town in Brazil and comments by friends who knew him.

On the role of alcohol in the crash, Patch provides context about the incident that the official account lacks. The report that Junior was driven home from a night club by friends would indicate that he was probably seriously intoxicated when he got in his car. It also raises questions about his judgment and responsibility, given that his wife is due to deliver a child shortly. However, that information is sourced to unidentified “friends.”

Community Service or Slipshod Reporting?

So the Patch account is better than that of the local newspaper, but its use of unconfirmed and anonymously sourced information would make it unfit to publish  under the traditional rules of news journalism. But should those rules apply any more?

The Metrowest Daily News’ sole source in its coverage is the local police department, which is standard practice in these cases. Patch had no access to those official channels and so had to piece together its story from unidentified friends, talk radio accounts and Twitter chatter. Anonymous sourcing permitted Patch to beat the local daily by many hours and to add details that would never appear in the police log. In the hours since its account appeared, other people have confirmed the victim’s identity and added a few details via comments.

Anonymous sourcing is dangerous, though. While the events would indicate that Junior was drunk (high-speed, single-vehicle crash in the early morning hours on the eve of a holiday), there was no official confirmation of that fact. Driver impairment is an important issue not only because of the victim’s reputation but also for legal reasons. What if Junior was sober and responding to a friend’s call for help when he hit a police cruiser parked with its lights off? The town could be liable for damages.

Standard journalistic practice is to confirm a story through official channels before publishing, but standard practice assumes archival permanency. Online, our mistakes are quickly corrected. For example, in the time since we began writing this entry, Patch has already corrected the victim’s name. The Patch editors sacrificed absolutely accuracy for speed and  the interests of residents who wanted details as quickly as possible. In the process, it made one major mistake and an inference that could have legal ramifications.

Patch’s sourcing style is increasingly typical of online-only news operations. Is it making the proper tradeoffs or sacrificing accuracy for expediency? Post your comments here.

 

Comments

comments

This entry was posted on Friday, November 25th, 2011 at 7:35 pm and is filed under Citizen Journalism, Future of Journalism, Local news, Newspapers, OnlineMedia. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

15 Comments

  1. November 26, 2011 @ 12:32 pm



    The Metrowest Daily News’ sole source in its coverage is the local police department, which is standard practice in these cases.

    Perhaps the MDN shouldn’t have relied solely on the police report? An obit notice would have given names of relatives, who could have been contacted to provide further details. Maybe the sketchy sourcing is filling a vacuum left by incomplete reporting. I’m not blaming the reporter, as it’s probably a result of insufficient staffing. But there is something to be said for deeper reporting on local stories like this.

    Posted by Bryan
  2. November 27, 2011 @ 2:56 pm



    Good article. I have to say that i am generally impressed with Patch and the reporting that they do. With stories like this, they certainly provide more color than local papers. However, with the death of one of my brothers aquaintances last year in a very similar situation, i wonder if these stories play any meaningful role. There was a newspaper and a Patch story on it, and the Patch story was more involved, but it didnt really matter… Texting, Facebook, phone calls and face to face chats had them both beat by miles, and were updated by the minute.

    Posted by Stephen
  3. November 27, 2011 @ 4:51 pm



    Patch serves a purpose, but it does not replace traditional reporting. I work for a newspaper in a town with four media sources, one of them is Patch. Journalists can learn from Patch and include more in a story than simply a police report, which often leaves out details that make a story more interesting or even controversial. Patch can learn from traditional journalists and focus more on accuracy than immediacy.

    While speed is a quality, as noted in the book The Vanishing Newspaper, accuracy is also a quality. But accuracy should not be sacrificed for speed. Ultimately accuracy should win. Speed is a construct of our instant gratification society of fast food, quick and easy service, more bigger now. Speed is a source of competition among media outlets… “He scooped me on that” or “I totally beat her on that one…” It’s ridiculous. Get it right. We can’t feed people’s yearning to have things immediately. That’s a societal problem journalists need to assuage, not exacerbate.

    A day late news, always late, always accurate, a friend on mine once said. I also disagree with the assumption that “Standard journalistic practice is to confirm a story through official channels before publishing, but standard practice assumes archival permanency.” Newspapers should not be afraid to print errors, and it is not taking enough chances if it does not print any. Accuracy is important, but fear of being wrong should not prevent a story from being written. If press time comes and facts haven’t been verified, tell your readers. Be transparent, don’t be afraid.

    Correcting things online quickly is not necessarily a good thing. Stories can be shared with one version and read in another, confusing the process, especially if important information is changed without notice.

    All these subjects warrant deeper discussion, and I thank you for starting the conversation. Stephen makes a good point… people who care already know. Patch is merely trying to capitalize off that sentiment.

    Posted by david
  4. November 28, 2011 @ 2:59 am



    1. Report on what is being said on the scanner live while driving to the news event.
    2. Report on what you see with your own eyes and what you hear with your own ears when you get to the news event.
    3. Report on what other witnesses are saying at the news event.
    4. Follow up with what the twitter and facebook chatter are saying about the news event when you get home.
    5. Twiddle your thumbs and wait for the investigating officer to put out a release at the end of their shift.
    6. Churnalize the release and post.
    7. Transparently and openly correct errors you reported earlier by lining out the inaccurate stuff in the actual posts, AND report the errors in as separate post clearly entitled “CORRECTIONS”.

    Whether you are the type that just rewrites press releases for the morning edition, or you are the type who is out in the pouring rain trying to figure out how to not void the warranty on your phone while trying to get live video of the emergency workers extracting a body, you are going to have the same number of confirmed facts in the same time frame. The difference is, the reporter who has owned the eyeballs up to that point will have to spend an extra 5 minutes openly posting corrections… an act that will further endear their followers to them.

    The morning edition person might get skimmed…

    If the morning edition person manages to report something new, the breaking news reporter might throw them a bone and cite them when reporting this new information that they missed, making them not only the go-to website for breaking news, but also a trusted curator of everything else in the ‘sphere.

    This seems like a no-brainer to me. What am I missing?

    Posted by Curtis Bloes
  5. November 28, 2011 @ 7:09 am



    Thanks for your comments. I’m particularly interested in the tolerance people are expressing for posting inaccurate information and correcting it later. Are news editors becoming more tolerant of running unconfirmed material under the supposition that anything online can be changed? If so, that would mark a major break with tradition. Probably a good thing, but context is important. It’s one thing to get a name or age wrong and something entirely different to make assumptions about a person’s motivations or state of mind.

    Curtis, I don’t think anyone would say the official report replaces on-the-spot reporting. But is it the same thing to report an event through the eyes of people who weren’t there but who knew the victim and perhaps had some background on what happened that night? Should we trust the news that the victim was driven home from a nightclub and then got in his car to go out again if the source of that information is anonymous? The use of so many anonymous sources in the Patch story is another concern.

    Posted by Paul Gillin
  6. November 28, 2011 @ 5:42 pm



    Getting it first and wrong is terrible journalism and any way you slice it is simply gossip. This was not a story about breaking news that would save lives. One of the core no-nos is get the name correct. THEY GOT THE WRONG NAME! As a former journalist this is shoddy, irresponsible and dangerous. I am a major believer in new ways of journalism but this gives online journos a bad name.

    Posted by Darrel Cole
  7. November 29, 2011 @ 7:01 pm



    I don’t understand why we’re sacrificing accuracy for speed. I’m a photojournalist. I was always taught you don’t assume. It seems very easy to leave out facts that are unconfirmed. It may seem juicy that he was dropped off by friends but the reporter should confirm this before it is reported to others. The minute it’s confirmed she should report it. That’s the beauty of the internet. That’s where the speed comes in handy. Not to just get opinions and rumors out. What good is news if it’s not factual? Besides that it hurts all of journalism’s credibility when things turn out to be wrong. It’s very dangerous to report false information new school or old school.

    Posted by Rod Veal
  8. November 29, 2011 @ 7:07 pm



    I tend to agree with Rod and Darrel, although I wouldn’t say getting it right is as important as attributing the information. What bothered me a little about the Patch report is that so much information was attributed to unnamed “friends.” This wasn’t exactly controversial information, so why not name the sources?

    Posted by Paul Gillin
  9. December 1, 2011 @ 3:08 pm



    I think there ARE new rules. The way I look at it, the rumors that are being spread online by friends and family are part of the story. I feel like since an organized news room will never, ever beat facebook, the rules are now that we have to keep up with, and report _all_ of the information and indicate clearly which information is fact and which is rumor.

    Otherwise, what good are you to the community? Why would they ever buy your rag with your rewritten police report (+ one inserted quote,) at hour 20 if they feel, (rightly or wrongly,) that they can only get the full story from facebook by reading what Richardo’s friends are saying about the event on their walls?

    You can be mad about it and think it’s beneath you, but that is why people buy newspapers for the coupons instead of the news.

    Posted by curtis Bloes
  10. December 3, 2011 @ 11:14 am



    I think there is a need to stratify the population that you are looking at. If someone from my hometown crashes and dies on a road near me, i want read to the story about it. Now, if I do not know this person, or have only heard of them in passing, I want it to be accurate above all and i want some personal details, but I don’t really care if it is timely. If I really knew this person somewhat well, i would have already gotten a phone call or a text. In fact, more likely than not, if i am not in that persons social circle, the newspaper will be the first and only way that i will hear about it, so timeliness is just not an issue. At that point it is just a public interest story- important, neccesary, but not time sensitive. So take your time and get it right, cause i am only gonna read about it once. I live in a town of about 25,000. I can say i know, at most, 2000 people well enough to care to hear the gory details in a timely fashion. That is not a big segment of the population.

    Now if I know this person very well, it is a different story. More likely than not, i will have heard about it in depth via FB or texting long before any website will come up with it. That is why I wonder about the utility of these stories… But I am just speculating.

    I would hope that Patch doesn’t pigeonhole itself into these kinda stories. They could be more than that. I was VERY skeptical of Patch at first, but they have shown they can do excellent journalism. They are a true news source in many towns. After all, Patch has been vacuuming up a lot of new journalism gradutes that have no where else to go. I have also noticed that, in the future, Patch can become an excellent pipeline for young journalists. In my general area, i have noticed two excellent Patch journalists get courted and hired by larger local papers. Patch is gonna have some revenue hurdles but i hope AOL sticks with them.

    Posted by Stephen
  11. December 3, 2011 @ 1:41 pm



    What we are really talking about is at the core of journalism itself. And few things matter more in a democratic society than to maintain and build upon journalism’s integrity. Yet to assume that “rumors” should be part of the story because it’s on Twitter and Facebook… well, if that’s the case, goodbye integrity.

    Why stop there? Why not include hear-say comments from the corner store? Or listen to phone conversations and use that as a source? “According to a large woman bereft of tact but with a brand new iPhone, Johnson’s death could have been avoided, if he had only eaten his spinach.” Where does it end?

    Attribution, as Paul notes, is absolutely important. Anonymous or unnamed sources should be only used as a last resort. If you want to use it, FINE. Just don’t call it journalism. All the things Curtis mentions are fine, but it is not journalism. Journalism is evolving and should embrace change, but it certainly shouldn’t throw away the little dignity and integrity it has for the sake of hot trends. Facebook could be gone in five years, replaced by Google+, Twitter could be replaced by something else. These are tools, not the power center of journalism. Democracy will fail if we allow our integrity to fall victim to popular trends and allow rumors to be considered news.

    This is closer to the yellow journalism of the late 1800s, a time when news gave people what they wanted rather than what they needed. Conversely, we are not preachers or agenda setters, we are the keepers of democracy. Let’s not forget that.

    Posted by david
  12. December 4, 2011 @ 9:51 am



    Keep in mind that nearly everything in the Patch account was correct. The reporter exercised some personal latitude in choosing not to identify the sources, but those sources were apparently pretty good. On a big-city daily, this story might have run in much the same form, with “friends” replaced by “sources.” The difference is that there would have been some back-and-forth between the editor and the reporter to confirm that the sources were trustworthy enough to believe, and the story might have been changed or killed if the editor didn’t buy in. On a lightly staffed operation, that process is shortcut in the interests of speed and practicality.

    People are making good arguments on both sides. I think the fundamental issue comes down to trust. If you’re going to play fast and loose with sourcing, you’d better be confident in your sources, because once you have a track record of unreliability, it’s very hard to get that trust back. This is made more complex by the changeable nature of the Web. If you go live with a rumor, labeled as such, and the rumor turns out not to be true, you can quickly change it and few people will notice. Once you commit a rumor to print, though, it’s there forever.

    I think we’ll see more seat-of-the-pants reporting because of this fact. There will be more errors, but information will also be communicated more quickly. We’ll learn to check back for the most recent version of the story.

    Posted by Paul Gillin
  13. December 5, 2011 @ 1:03 pm



    There is a mistake made by Patch on the first statement he reported at the first place. Let us also think that all reporters want a fresh and new events or happening that needs to be reported. As I understand in the side of Patch, he is just clearly wanted to claim that he is the first one to cover the crash accident. But then publish the true cause and identity of the man involved when it is clarified. As long as the truth came out, that’s the big aim for reporting. :)

    Posted by Diane
  14. December 16, 2011 @ 6:08 pm



    Well, looks like these posts might all be a bit irrelevant. Hey, Mr. Gillin, looks like you might have to post a WHOLE lotta dead newspapers in the near future, if things keep going the way they do for Patch.com

    http://www.businessinsider.com/weve-gotten-a-good-look-at-aols-local-ad-revenues-and-they-are-tiny-2011-12#comment-4eebbdba69bedd1650000010

    I knew Patch would have big trouble, but 8M dollars in annual revenue is dismal. It’s beyond dismal.

    Posted by Stephen
  15. December 26, 2011 @ 12:40 pm



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