Tag Archives: news

See Something, Say Nothing …

 

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Now that I have your attention …

We went out for a quick errand around 8 p.m. one evening a few weeks ago and came home less than an hour later to find a man with a long gun standing in the grass inches from our driveway. He was picking up a plastic bag filled with something.

At first, we didn’t see the gun. At first, we wrote it off a neighbor walking his dog. At first, we thought the bag was filled with pooch poop, and we praised the man for doing the right thing and not leaving his dog’s shit behind to fertilize our sidewalk.

Praise turned to panic, however, when we realized there was no dog. No dog meant, no dog shit. No dog shit meant … we had no idea what it meant because by then, we had caught a glimpse of the gun’s stock nestled comfortably under the man’s arm.

We drove into the garage so fast, I thought our car would end up in the kitchen. By the time we raced inside the house and looked out the front windows, he was gone.

I called 911 to report the incident … “see something, say something” solidly engraved in my mind, ready to report the bad guys among us disguised as friends and neighbors.

The 911 operator took down all my information, assured me that officers would be dispatched to check out the situation and asked if I would like those officers to knock on my door when they arrived.

“Of course,” I replied.

“OK, we’re sending someone now,” she said.

Two hours later, I went to bed, not knowing if officers had come out to investigate. I was also a bit concerned that no one had stopped by to at least put our minds at ease and tell us they would keep an eye on things.

A couple of days later, I followed up with a call to the Community Officer assigned to my neighborhood. I found his name and number in the neighborhood newsletter we receive every month, a newsletter that encourages us to call that officer whose job it is to help the citizens of my west Miramar, Florida, neighborhood. I left a message on his voicemail, and he called back about 30 minutes later. I was impressed with the quick response.

He told me he had looked up and reviewed the record of my call, assured me that an officer had driven by and had concluded that my call was “unfounded.”

He said the guy with the gun was probably out hunting iguanas because “that’s legal now, you know.” He said the gun was probably “just a BB gun.” And even though Florida is not an open carry state, it is legal to open carry a BB gun, even one that looks like a real gun that can hurt a lot more than just iguanas.

Really? Hunting iguanas at 9 p.m. in my front yard in the middle of a residential neighborhood is OK? Carrying what looks like a rifle in front of my house is legal?

“But, hey, if you see him again, call us,” the officer said. He seemed bored with all this “unfounded gun talk,” and so I thanked him and hung up.

But something didn’t feel quite right to me. I just couldn’t accept the fact that a guy with a gun — OK, maybe just a BB gun — was out patrolling my block at night “hunting iguanas.”

I sent a note to my city’s mayor, who just happens to live in my development. Surely he would care enough to look further into what had happened, I thought. The mayor responded to my note right away, saying he’d ask the police chief to look into it.  Three weeks later, when I hadn’t heard back, I sent another note to the mayor. I’m still waiting for his response.

I then voiced my concern about our neighborhood “hunter” to one of my neighbors. He smiled and said the guy I had seen lives a few doors down from us. He goes out every night to shoot bufo toads, brings their carcasses back home, photographs them and posts them on social media.

This is normal?  Is this his idea of community service?  Walk around the block shooting poisonous frogs for shits and giggles? I find that rock salt is just as effective. Sprinkling salt around the perimeter of your property equals no more frogs. (Google it if you don’t believe me.)

It seemed strange that the guy with the gun on my property was being given the benefit of the doubt, and I was being written off as a nutty neighbor jumping to conclusions.

Unfortunately, this is the norm, not the exception.

Hindsight in many mass shooting cases shows a frighteningly similar scenario. The names of mass shooters are often found on FBI watchlists. After the shootings, we learn that “Yep, we had him on the list. We knew he might do something.”

What good is a watchlist if all they do is watch it?

“See something, say something” was initially used to protect us against foreign terrorists. It has since been expanded to include anything we think is suspicious, out of the ordinary, like a guy with a long gun in your driveway.

But aren’t the people to whom we say something supposed to do something?

The El Paso, Texas, Walmart shooting suspect’s mother reportedly called police a few weeks before the mass shooting in which 22 people died and told them she was concerned because her 21-year-old son owned an “AK-type” firearm. Police responded that he was legally allowed to purchase and own such a weapon. Nothing to see here; move along. Case closed.

Note to law enforcement: If someone’s mom calls you to tell you she’s “concerned” that her kid has an assault weapon, perhaps you should pay attention.

As of September 1, 2019, there have been 283 mass shootings in the U.S. As of Sept. 19, 2019, I have yet to hear back from anyone in authority to explain why the events of that night in front of my house were brushed off as “unfounded.”

Isn’t it about time we stop using “see something, say something” as rhetoric and start putting it into practice?

One final note … If I had a weapon on “the night of the iguana” (sorry, Tennessee Williams, I couldn’t resist) and I had used that weapon to defend myself against the guy shooting iguanas and bufo toads, things could have ended much differently.

Florida’s stand your ground law, which basically says you can use deadly force if you fear for your life, especially if you are protecting your homestead, could have been put to the test that night.

Cue alternate ending.

I come home to find a man with a gun on my property. I’m afraid the man is going to shoot me. I pull out my gun and shoot him instead. End of story?

Not so fast. I would then have had to answer to a system that continually reminds us of our responsibility to protect one another, but then puts the burden of proof on the victim.

Bad guys … even potential bad guys … win again.

This isn’t a judgment on weapons. It’s certainly not a judgment on law enforcement.

It’s an observation, a call to action to hold those whose job it is to protect us to follow through with their responsibility, no matter how insignificant what we report to them may seem.

Don’t shoot the messenger.

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The entourage

I recently had the opportunity of being photographed with a celebrity.

Because I work in the newsroom of a South Florida television station, that happens pretty often, so being starstruck is something that rarely — if ever — happens to me.

Now, on several occasions I have welcomed the chance to be photographed with someone who has celebrity status.  But I’m picky as to which celebrities I allow to be photographed with me.  After all, I don’t want to end up on just anyone’s Facebook page 🙂

As for this most recent photo-with-a-celeb opportunity, I can’t tell you her name.

It’s not because I’m trying to protect her identity.  It’s because I have no idea who she is or why she’s famous.

Nonetheless, she showed up with the mandatory entourage of the allegedly famous in tow.  You know, the people paid to tell her she’s cool.

“I had to Google her to find out who she is,” I heard several of my colleagues say when they too were given the chance to meet and be photographed with this person.

Yet, there she was, with an entourage of about 10 people, whose job it is to stroke her ego and make sure her every need is met, while giving attitude to the mere mortals who dared not stop everything they were doing to swoon over her presence.

It’s sad that thinking having an entourage makes you cool.  It’s even sadder thinking that being part of someone else’s entourage makes you cool.

My barometer for coolness is simple.  The fewer people in your entourage, the cooler you are.

Which brings me to my most recent starstruck experience — one that left me feeling like a pre-teenage girl going backstage to meet her favorite boy band.

I temporarily lost the ability to speak.  Breathing became an option.

The three men walked into the newsroom unannounced in the middle of the afternoon. There was no fanfare or staged photo opportunity.

There wasn’t even a hint of an entourage.

But their impact and ability to save lives is so powerful that the governors and mayors of every U.S. city with the potential of being struck by a hurricane depend on their guidance to keep residents safe before, during and after a storm.

One of them I already knew.

Max Mayfield — whose name that became synonymous with saving lives during Hurricane Andrew — is a colleague of mine.  He is the former director of the National Hurricane Center, and one of the humblest, kindest people I know.  We work together closely during Hurricane season.  And I get a particular warm fuzzy every time he sends me one of his blogs and asks if “I wouldn’t mind” posting it to our station’s website.

Rick Knabb, Max Mayfield,  Dennis Feltgen and yours truly.

Rick Knabb, Max Mayfield, Dennis Feltgen and yours truly.

With Max were Rick Knabb, the current Director of the National Hurricane Center and Dennis Feltgen, the center’s Public Affairs Officer — all three seasoned meteorologists who are “must haves” in everyone’s hurricane survival kit.

When they stopped at my desk and Max introduced us, my geek status meter went into the red zone.

My gasp could be heard all the to the Cape Verde Islands. (For those of you who don’t monitor hurricanes in the Atlantic, those islands are just off the coast of Africa, where hurricanes are born.)

Within seconds, I fumbled for my iPhone and asked one of my colleagues to take our photo.  In less time than it took for the flash to go off,  I had posted the photo on Facebook.

What struck me the most about these guys was their lack of pretentiousness.  They also seemed a bit surprised that I wanted my photograph taken with them.

Their attitude during our conversation can be summed up like this:  What can we do to help you?  How can we do a better job providing you with the tools and information you need to help communicate that information to your viewers during the threat of a hurricane?”

Aren’t those who live to serve and help others the ones who make the greatest impact on our lives?  Isn’t that what we should all be striving to do?

As for the celebrity who inspired this article, if not knowing who she is makes me uncool, I wear my uncool t-shirt proudly.

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I See Naked News People

I recently read what might well be the most offensive online article I’ve ever seen on a mainstream television news Web site.

As an online journalist, I’ve seen my share of bottom feeder-type articles, but this one surpassed anything that’s ever graced my inbox.

Which led me to a question which I hope opens the door to some debate.

Are we journalists really giving people what they want?  Or are we just performing for an audience of our peers — an audience who loves to forward shocking content to other journalists to show each other samples of what our competitors are doing?

I can’t help but wonder if the majority of clicks that story got were from shocked people forwarding it to their friends to say … OMG, look how horrible.  Or worse, OMG, should we be doing this?

By doing so, they did exactly what the article’s author intended … they got others to click on the story too.  It doesn’t matter where those clicks came from.  At the end of the month, that web site will take those numbers, show them to an advertiser and say “OMG! Look  how many pageviews we have!  Why in the world aren’t you spending money with us?”

I’ve been in the news business longer than many of the people I work with have been alive.   But unlike hardcore journalists who believe that journalism is a sacred art that must not be tampered with, I love change. I don’t want to be one of  ‘those people’ who think things were better back in the day.  I embrace technology and welcome what it contributes to our business.

At some point, however, someone has to tell the online emperor that he’s not wearing any clothes.   Someone has to tell him that he better put on a decent outfit or he will be exposed for what he really is.

The Internet may have opened a world of opportunities for journalists, but that doesn’t give us license to print crap. 

At the end of the day, it’s all about balance.  While we strive to tease our audience with compelling headlines that will entice them to click on and open our stories, let’s not kid ourselves thinking that the payoff for dumbing ourselves down is a loyal audience.  It’s not.

I can only hope that advertisers still agree with me.

One more thing.  If you’re wondering where you can find the article that offended me enough to post this entry.  Forget it.  I refuse to play along in the game its author intended.

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All A-Twitter

I’ve been in the television news business since dinosaurs (aka, film cameras, paper-based teleprompters and typewriters) roamed newsrooms. 

The buzz for the past couple of years in the television news industry has been all about change.  Television news is losing advertisers and so, news organizations look for ways to increase revenue.  A few years ago, web sites were an afterthought.  Today, web sites and their spawn are challenging traditional methods of newsgathering.

While the change has been gradual, this week the newsroom in which I happen to work, WPLG – Local 10 in South Florida, took a long leap into the future.

It came in the way of Twitter.  If you don’t know about Twitter, you will.  It’s Facebook on acid.  And for some reason, this week, it set the news on fire.

“What’s up with this Twitter all of a sudden?” my friend Bonnie from a Los Angeles news organization asked me?

While most producers and traditional journalists have fought web technology tooth and nail, they are embracing Twitter like flies to a flame.  The newsroom at WPLG this week was all a-twitter with tweets.  And even those who said they would never do it, jumped on the bandwagon and stayed there.

I am the Managing Editor of  http://www.justnews.com, Local 10’s web site.  I love my job.  My friends kid me that I get paid to play on the internet all day.  This week, I came even closer to that job description than ever before.

Attention journalism students and jobseekers … this is the new journalism.

It’s not perfect.  It does tend to dumb down your work and your audience when you have less than 150 words to tell a story.  But think of the possibilities.

During the next few weeks I’ll add to the lessons we’ve learned using Twitter. 

And who knows what’s just around the corner.

Welcome to the new newsroom.  Follow Local 10 at http://www.twitter.com/talkto10.

Follow me at http://www.twitter.com/barbbesteni.

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