The criticism of the RCMP for its apparent failure to communicate urgently and sensibly to the public during the mass murder rampage in Nova Scotia is deepening. Why did the Nova Scotia RCMP use Twitter? Why did it not ask the emergency measures office of the provincial government to issue an “emergency alert”?
Important questions. But here’s what I also want to know:
Did the RCMP issue any “news release” or other type of information directly into the newsrooms of radio stations, tv outlets, newspapers or other mass communication organizations in the affected area or through-out the province during the emergency?
Was the fact there was a killer on the run reported on the news on the radio first thing Sunday morning when newsrooms put their first newscasts of the day on the air?
Was the story on the radio?
How soon was the story on the air?
It’s not sufficient – and may not be ethical – for radio and tv news organizations and newspapers and the national news wire service to be pushing the RCMP for failing to recognize the value of getting an emergency alert issued.
The question needs to be answered inside the newsroom first: Did we get the story on the air as soon as we possibly could have?
Did we catch the very first tweet issued by the RCMP and start reporting on air? Did we make contact with them right away to try to find out what it was all about? Did we do everything we could have in our newsroom?
Did we miss it?
Did the events play out for hours, at a time when we had no staff in the newsroom, no scheduled news casts, and no one watching out for important news?
The 24-hour newsroom is rare now. There are no overnight live radio newscasts originating in Nova Scotia. (If I have somehow missed a station that has live newscasts on air overnight on Saturday into Sunday morning, someone will correct me on that.) The story could have been on the air Saturday night!
But even as radio newsrooms wake up on a Sunday morning – around 5 o’clock; perhaps as early as 4:00 – did the RCMP tweets or any other information about the situation immediately get picked up, developed, broadcast as the top story?
We’re going to have to put pressure on them too, if they’re going to be part of the crowd putting pressure on the RCMP. It’s hard to know what they did and when without access to their loggers that store everything that happens on air. Do their own websites and social media feeds reflect the urgency with which they reacted to and broadcast the story as it the events were still playing out?
Question: What did broadcasters do for their listener?
News 95-7 in Halifax is probably the most active and influential radio newsroom in the province. It’s a Rogers station that operates a news wheel like the Rogers flagship 680News in Toronto in certain dayparts, and news/talk at others. It appears the first time News 95-7 tweeted about the crisis was after 7:36 Sunday morning, when it attached a story from its related website Halifax Today. That was followed by re-tweets of RCMP tweets: at 10:07 and then 10:28.
At about 10:40 the radio station re-tweeted an RCMP tweet saying the gunman was “now in custody”.
Let’s check another radio station that we might expect to be active on the story while the events were in progress Sunday morning.
At Pure Country 99.5 in Truro, Nova Scotia – CKTY FM by its call letters, owned by Bell Media – it appears the first time the story was posted to their website was 7:16 Sunday morning. Yet local news staff also seem to have written and posted three other stories – including a Covid-19 update and two routine RCMP arrest stories surely based on routine news releases – between 5:30 and 6:00 in the morning Sunday. I wonder if the radio station…simply was not aware of the events in progress at the time. Or maybe the timeline shown on the big story has changed. I’m just not sure who has time in a radio newsroom to write routine stories for a website when there’s a really urgent story that should likely make them way too busy to worry about the routine arrest news releases.
Significantly, though: Pure Country tweets at 7:14 Sunday morning, and it’s not a re-retweet of an RCMP message. It’s written by a radio station employee, and reads “BREAKING (hashtag, and in upper case) and then: “N.S. RCMP are on scene of an “active shooter” situation in Portapique. The public is urged to stay away from Portapique Beach Rd, Bay Shore Rd and Five Houses Rd along the Cobequid Bay. Stay inside, lock their doors, call 911 if they see someone on their property.”
This is available directly to the 29-hundred and some people who follow the radio station on Twitter; but it has detailed information about the areas thought or known to be involved in the situation at that moment; and we can assume, the radio station is broadcasting at least the same level of detail over the radio, likely by 7 in the morning. News; about an urgent situation…while it is still happening.
CBC appears to be taking a very active role in examining the RCMP’s lack of a decision to request an emergency alert. CBC Nova Scotia appears to have issued its first tweet about the ongoing situation at 5:35 Sunday morning; earlier than the other broadcasters noted so far. It reads “RCMP tells Portapique residents to lock doors following firearms complaint”. And there’s a link to a web story; updated since, so I don’t know its original content.
CBC Information Morning, its weekday morning show out of Halifax, is not on the air on weekends – national shows would be on – but someone was tweeting from its account starting at 8:38 Sunday morning, then retweeting CBC News and the RCMP; before tweeting at 9:32 that CBC was carrying special news coverage of the crisis.
As for the RCMP: RCMP Nova Scotia tweeted, at 10:32 Saturday Night. The tweet reads the force “is responding to a firearms complaint in the #Portapique area. (Portapique Beach Rd, Bay Shore Rd, and Five Houses Rd.) The public is asked to avoid the area and stay in their homes with doors locked at this time.”
This is 10:32 Saturday Night! Even if radio newsrooms were shut down for the night…tv newsrooms and the national wire service should have caught this. It should have been news right away! Who missed it? Why…did the story not get major awareness?
The RCMP tweets…a local warning…at 10:32 Saturday night. Its feed suggests it does not tweet again…until 7:02 Sunday morning.
A follower responded to a follow-up tweet from the RCMP after 9 o’clock suggesting…this is the kind of information for which you should be issuing an emergency alert.
Did the RCMP try anything else?
A search of the RCMP data base suggests there was no media advisory issued until Sunday afternoon, when the Nova Scotia division released a “statement”. The statement is focused on the death of the officer killed during the events, and makes reference to a second officer being wounded. It indicates “This tragic incident has also resulted in many victims outside of the RCMP” but gives no further information and does not hint at how many people may have been injured or killed. The police force investigating a mass shooting…is focused in its communication to the public…on its own officer tragically killed in the line of duty. On Monday, the RCMP sent out a media advisory, saying it would give an update at 2 o’clock in the afternoon. The advisory indicated that the events of “yesterday” had resulted in multiple deaths, including that of an RCMP officer.
The national news service – the Canadian Press – which has a bureau in Halifax…and would have had staff on duty at the national newsroom in Toronto where it was only 9:32 Saturday night when the RCMP first tried to get attention: Appears to have sent out its very first report of the story at 9:10 Toronto time Sunday morning.
This is a short time before the suspect is shot and killed, in Nova Scotia. As I write…we are led to believe he killed 22 other people…since the night before…while the news media was largely silent, for many hours.
One of the reasons it’s thought we need to get emergency alerts on our phones…is that too many people won’t get the information from broadcast radio or tv. Too many people…don’t use a lot of traditional live mass media these days.
The emergency alert that would have gone to phones across Nova Scotia, had one been issued, would have also gone automatically over every radio and tv station broadcasting in the province or distributed over regional cable or satellite providers in the province.
Theoretically then…almost everyone in Nova Scotia could have known Saturday night, that there was a very dangerous situation in progress.
An emergency alert would have helped. There’s absolutely no doubt about that.
But why radio and tv across Nova Scotia did not spot and react to the first tweet from the RCMP; and get potentially life-saving information on the air…there’s another…really big question.
Listeners are owed an explanation.
Update April 24: Please note: Times given here for the issuing of tweets by the RCMP and radio stations in Nova Scotia are as they appear on the Twitter feeds of those organizations. In my own work as a radio newscaster, one of the sites that is always open on my desktop is the Twitter feed of Toronto police. In my experience, newsrooms constantly monitor and check the major police services covering their listening area. But yes, this is surely a case for an emergency alert.