Archive for October, 2010

Bomb Threats, suspicious packages and water bottles

October 2, 2010

Honestly, I don’t get it.

I don’t understand why TV stations report bomb threats and suspicious packages until it’s been confirmed there really is a danger. In this post 9/11 day and age, citizens are doing a great job keeping their eyes open and reporting suspicious packages to police. But we need to temper what we report on the air.

I understand reporting about a suspicious package if police say it’s truly a legitimate concern. A great example of that is when the media covered the Times Square suspicious car bomb. That was clearly legit. There was true evidence of something suspicious. It was real.

We have a clear policy here at CBS Atlanta News. We shoot everything, but just because we shoot it, it doesn’t mean it needs to go on the air. If there’s a report of a suspicious package we’ll send the crew and possibly get some shots with the chopper.

But here’s what we would report. If there’s police activity that forces road closings, evacuations or detours, we report that there is police activity in the area so viewers know there’s something going on and can be prepared for changes. We do NOT routinely report local phoned in bomb threats, suspicious packages or even texts from students because in almost every case they turn out to be nothing.

What I don’t understand is why local stations report this stuff every day?

In the last week in this market there were reports of “suspicious devices” in at least three instances. Not one turned out to be real.

Here’s an example of a reported threat today. Police cordoned off a school bus that had been carrying students because of a bomb threat. Well, here’s what actually happened from one of our sources:

“A kid got on the bus and started talking about the water bottle someone put underneath a different bus the other day. That kid asked a friend, ‘Did you see the bomb on the bus?’ Another kid hears that and says, ‘There’s a bomb on the bus?’ Next thing you know, kids are calling and texting their parents that there was a bomb on THAT bus.” The next thing you know two stations are reporting a possible bomb on a school bus.

I’m not saying police shouldn’t take every threat seriously. They should and do. And they do a great job protecting the citizens while they check out the threat.

But why are stations going on the air and Web with suspicious packages that 99.9999 percent of the time turns out to be nothing? I understand shooting it, but why take up time in a newscast, send out breaking alerts and creating a sense of concern and possible chaos until you know what you really have?

Years and years ago I worked in the Tampa market. At that time the Sunshine Skyway Bridge was being closed almost daily by a prankster who kept calling in bomb threats. We reported them and the next day the guys would call in again to watch his handy work.

Police asked us not to report the bomb threat. If the bridge was closed they asked us to report it, and if we needed to say why we said because of police activity. As I constantly say to the staff, “Just Go.” We shoot everything, but we make the decision what to air. Just because we shoot it doesn’t mean we air it.