Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Local media oddness

A news story that normally wouldn't really interest me has me noticing and pointing out curious things about how the local media work.

Here's the deal. A Warwick city council member was arrested over the weekend for shoplifting. I previously lived in Warwick, but I was not in his district and don't really know much about him, so I just sort of shrugged when I read it on Channel 12's website on Saturday. I assume they ran a story on the broadcast news, but I try very hard to avoid watching local news because it all seems pretty annoying and mostly useless to me (all channels, not just 12.)

The story stayed on Channel 12's website all weekend (not sure what time it was posted Saturday, but Google news says it was Saturday.) On Monday, the Providence Journal ran an article about the incident. Interestingly, the original story on Channel 12's website had a piece of information which the ProJo story did not report, namely that the police said that "this may not be the first time they have caught Councilor Gallucci in a shoplifting incident."

So, later Monday morning, Rhode Island Law Journal, an interesting local blog, posted a brief note about the incident, with a link to the ProJo story. In the comments, I posted a link to the Channel 12 story and mentioned the additional information it had. Then I went to bed (I usually sleep during the day, for those who don't know). When I got up, the owner of the blog had posted a response saying that the Channel 12 link didn't work, that the story Channel 12 now had on their website didn't mention anything about a possible prior incident, and that he couldn't find a mention anywhere of a report of a possible prior incident. So I clicked on the link that I had posted earlier, and sure enough, the original story was gone. In its place was an error message saying, "The page you requested is currently unavailable. Pages on this site are constantly being revised, updated, and occasionally removed. You may have followed an outdated link or have outdated pages in your browser cache." Elsewhere on the site, they posted an AP story which had summarized the ProJo story, and Channel 12 had interjected into it that the Providence Journal is their "news partner." The news partnership entails some sort of setup between them where Channel 12's late night newscast has someone from the ProJo come on for a moment to give a preview of what will be in tomorrow's paper. I think they also do a news scroll type thing of ProJo headlines at other times. (I don't know for sure because as I said, I rarely watch broadcast news.)

Anyway, I was rather flummoxed by this turn of events. I was afraid it might make me look like one of those anonymous commenters who post false rumors to stir up trouble, like so many people over at the Rhode Island's Future blog. So, I set out to try to find the original story. It had been wiped from Channel 12's website, and clicking on the Google cache of it did not work. However, I was able to reconstruct parts of the story by Googling phrases I had remembered being in the story, and I posted the results in the comments of the Rhode Island Law Journal post (saying I wanted to prove I wasn't crazy or lying!) Early Tuesday morning, a story appeared on the Warwick Daily Times website about the incident, and this story did mention the possible prior incident. (It also got Gallucci's name completely wrong in the headline, but the paper is new in Warwick, after all.)

So, what does all of this signify? Could be any number of things. Could be that Channel 12 reported the possible prior incident without enough evidence to back it up. They did hedge by saying "may," and I don't know what the broadcast story was like (probably sensationalized.) Perhaps they got a call from legal counsel asking them to take it down for that reason. It is interesting that the ProJo surely must have been aware of this information but did not report it. Did their editor feel that there wasn't enough evidence to justify publishing it? Are they perhaps collecting evidence for a future story, keeping their powder dry? Are they annoyed that Channel 12 scooped them? (Perhaps not since they are "partners," but who knows.) Is there a political motive, i.e., someone trying to protect Gallucci? I doubt this given how the ProJo generally hates Democrats, but there's obviously stuff going on behind the scenes that is not being talked about.

I am annoyed with Channel 12 for basically attempting to throw the original story down the memory hole. I cannot be the only person who saw it given that it was on their site for days and probably broadcast as well. But now they are trying to cover their tracks, it appears. If they reported incorrect information, they should post a retraction. But given the subsequent story in the Warwick Daily Times, with an officer on record, it appears that there is indeed at least suspicion of a prior incident. So the information appears to have been correct. Did they pull the story from their site because their "partner" the ProJo is working on their own followup story? If so, that is a good argument against these news partnerships. We need news reported by more sources independent of each other, not fewer. If you need proof of this, compare the ProJo's coverage of the court decision about ballot questions with that of Jim Baron of the Pawtucket Times and its sister papers. I think Baron's coverage is better, and even if not, it certainly adds information not in the ProJo story. (Anyone serious about following RI politics should make a point of reading Baron's work regularly, and likewise that of Joe Baker of the Newport Daily News.)

So those are my reflections on the local media's strange coverage of this incident. I wish no ill upon Mr. Gallucci and hope that he is able to work out whatever problems he may be having.

On edit early Wednesday morning: the Warwick Beacon, which comes out Tuesdays and Thursdays, has a story in Tuesday's edition. Meanwhile, the ProJo has another story about it in Wednesday's edition, in the West Bay section, so it may or may not have run in the print version in other parts of the state. (They usually pick one or two stories from the regional sections to distribute statewide, I think.) This story does mention the possible prior incident and I think goes into more detail about it than other sources did. Meanwhile, Channel 12 has removed the AP story from its main page although you can still access it via a direct link. Meanwhile, they still have at least one out of date story about another topic on their main page ("Judge to hear arguments on ballot questions," but the decision has already been rendered.) Make of that what you will.

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