In a perfect reporter's world, when a news story breaks, we immediately hear about something happening and get right to the scene or make a phone call that yields all key information needed to print a story. The news gets posted and readers are fully informed minutes later.
In the real reporter's world, that scenario rarely happens.
Instead, confirming details can take hours or even days. Many times, the initial information is vague or incomplete, and we need to decide whether to publish what we have with the understanding that an update will be needed.
All the while, readers who perhaps witnessed the breaking news event or had heard something wonder why haven't covered a story or why we put out a report with major questions unanswered.
That imperfect — and fairly common — scenario played out last weekend into this week with a pair of vehicle crashes Friday night in Auburn.
Aside from the details we can observe with our eyes or piece together from emergency radio reporters, reporters must wait to get the basic information about crashes from police sources. That's because the officers who would be gathering that information and putting it into a report have to finish their jobs at the scene.
That step can take several hours, and a complicating factor can pop up with incidents on nights and weekends, when police paperwork can take longer to process. In the case of these Auburn crashes, we were able to get some information from the police department by mid-Saturday morning, but because the police reports available at that time still needed to be completed, we didn't have all of the relevant information. Most notably, APD told us they could not yet release names of the drivers believed to be responsible in both crashes.
At that point, based on the need to get some information out to the public because these crashes had been seen or heard about by plenty of people, we decided to post stories online and ran them in the Sunday print edition.
Because the stories lacked names, we knew that we'd be pursuing follow-ups to get that information reported. Unfortunately, APD records were in a holding pattern because of the weekend, which stretched through Monday because of the holiday. And in one of the two crashes, charges were still being finalized because the driver had been hospitalized.
All of the missing information finally came together Wednesday, and we had a follow-up story posted to auburnpub.com in the early afternoon, a report that's also in today's print edition.
The Auburn Police Department has released the names of two drivers who were involved in two …
As the process played out, I heard from a few upset readers. One messaged around 7:30 a.m. Saturday blasting us for not having the story. Two other responses came after the first stories, accusing us and/or the police department of covering up for people. One suggested that we should have immediately filed a Freedom of Information Law request to get the details, which is something we would have done if needed. But here's a key fact about FOIL: Agencies get about a month to process requests and provide information sought via a formal request; it's not something that magically produces information seconds after it's filed.
I understand the frustration. We feel it ourselves when waiting to confirm details on all kinds of stories. In the end, though, the most important fact is that the stories have been reported in a reasonably timely manner and the public has been informed.