, Gloucester, MA


December 22, 2012

Why Did My Newspaper Do That? Changed times in reporting on 'threats'

Some 25-30 years ago, you might not have read or heard much, if anything, about the reported threat that had parents taking their children out of Gloucester High School for the day on Friday.

In fact, back in those days I was working as education reporter at The Berkshire Eagle in my hometown of Pittsfield, and we essentially had an unwritten policy of not publicizing any bomb threats or other such incidents at schools or other city or area town buildings, unless there were extenuating circumstances — including, of course, if the threat ever proved legitimate. Thankfully, I can’t remember one that ever did.

The premise, of course, was that giving any publicity to these types of incidents would often bring the evacuation of a school, or perhaps even a shutdown for the day — no doubt the goal of callers like what the police chief there once described to me as a “very young-sounding voice” on the phone suggesting there was a bomb in his school. Indeed, it was hard to take any such threats seriously in those days — long before we were hit with the hard realities of Columbine and now Sandy Hook.

I recognize there was a context to that policy, but I have always had concerns about not reporting news to readers. All of that has obviously changed dramatically. There may be no more glaring example in our local news coverage changes than in the fact that Friday’s perceived threat is played prominently on our front page today, with a story and photo of the threat at our own high school, and not so coincidentally, an accompanying photo on the city’s bell-ringing memorial service in honor of the 26 victims of the Sandy Hook School shootings, which had occurred at the same hour exactly a week earlier.

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