When a bomb threat was called in to the Ocean County Mall this week, worry throughout the county ensued. Parents, spouses, friends and neighbors worried about people they care about who were working at mall businesses, and law enforcement families worried about their loved ones who were called in to investigate. Motorists passing by saw a massive police response, and word spread, with little information being initially available as to what was happening.
That is why it is important for the media to responsibly report such incidents and do its part to guide the communities they serve through such frightening incidents, even if they ultimately turn out to be unfounded. Evacuations of schools, malls and hospitals are serious incidents that affect members of our community, and they occur regardless of whether an explosive device is actually present.
On Friday, the Asbury Park Press announced that its reporters would no longer cover such stories, and that the staff would monitor situations and report on them only if a threat is determined to be real. We disagree, and believe this is the wrong decision for two reasons.
First, it is the job of the media to accurately report the news – not to judge whether the news neatly fits into certain self-determined parameters before it is fit for public consumption. Families and friends of those affected by evacuations – especially when they involve sensitive locations such as schools or hospitals – deserve to have reporters working to bring them quality, confirmed information instead of having to rely solely on the proverbial “rumor mill.”
Second, we believe that micromanaging the topics on which staff can report is indicative of a media culture that deems its own readers unable to comprehend the nuances of what is happening in the world around them. Frankly, we feel our readers are smart enough to form their own view. We’re here to provide the facts and the context in order to assist them in doing so.
The purpose of this editorial is not to attack or discredit the Asbury Park Press, its reporters, or even its management. The Press does fine work on a daily basis, especially with regard to large-scale stories of regional interest. But in the digital age, where social media and instant communication drive rumors and inaccuracies faster than a fire on a windy day, the responsibility of the press to report the facts and keep the community properly informed is more important than ever before.
We promise to do our part.