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
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.
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.
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.