Creating Journalists at Emmanuel College

A guide for ENGL 2501 and ENGL 3801

Evolution of a police news story

Photo by Richard Price

Photo by Richard Price

I went over the basics of a police story with students in my Intro to Journalism class Monday morning and discussed hyperlocal news sites with my Writing for Electronic Media students that same day.

The lessons kind of collided in Grafton this week.

The town was the home base for my former hyperlocal sites and my former Grafton reporter, Richard Price, created his own news site, The Grafton Villager, after the Massachusetts Daily Voice sites were shut down. Rich and I were chatting Friday because he had heard something odd on the police scanner: a series of arrests, within minutes of each other, that all appeared to be related.

(Bonus content: Here’s the online police scanner I used to have running on my computer all day. I also have an app on my phone. You too can become a scanner hound!)

Rich checked in with the police later and the log indicted there were arrests, but no names were provided. That usually means they aren’t quite finished with arrests in an investigation and, quite often, it means a large drug bust. I advised him to get in touch with the Worcester County DA’s office — a big drug bust usually means the Worcester County Drug Task Force is involved — and check in with the police chief.

The first official word was a press release posted on the Grafton Police Facebook page:

Rich quickly wrote up a story based off the release and started checking around for more details.

Since some of the arrests occurred at Grafton High School, the superintendent of schools weighed in.

With student bullying being a hot topic, the Boston Globe jumped in on the story, getting the police chief on the horn to provide a few more details. Chief Normand Crepeau, Jr., is pretty close-mouthed, so there’s not a lot more.

Television reporters get in on the act! I mentioned in class that police officers frequently speak in police jargon that needs to be translated for news stories — here’s chief being chief to a WBZ-TV reporter and Superintendent James Cummings expounding a little bit on consequences for the students involved.

The story takes a bit of a detour when a few parents take the mic during a School Committee meeting Monday to talk about student safety and gang activity. Comments here and on the Villager Facebook page were getting a little out of control, with people naming the arrested minors and calling out other commenters. (Student, remember what I said about commenting: First Amendment says they’re free to say it; it does NOT force YOU to say it by publishing it. You can delete comments, block frequent offenders and disable commenting entirely.)

Finally! The Telegram & Gazette weighs in a little late, but they’ve done some checking on the backgrounds of those arrested who were not minors and establish the “violent crime” that started the harassment.

Thoughts on where you would go next with the story?

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This entry was posted on January 28, 2014 by in Covering Crime and tagged , , , .

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