Police speak

The goals of reporters and police often are in conflict.     In our government of by the people and for the people, a reporter’s duty is to inform the public.  I’ve been in this position many times.  One of an officer’s duties is to see cases through to a successful prosecution.  So you often hear a reporter say, “..police won’t comment because they say the case still is under investigation…”  What the reporter may not tell us is that and officer has told him “off the record”  what’s going on.    If a reporter violates that trust, his relationship with the officer goes into the dumper.  There are middle grounds.  The officer may agree that it’s O.K. for the reporter to say something like, “a source close to the investigation tells us…..”   What the officer may fear is that if he’s quoted by name, his boss or the prosecutor will be unhappy. 

There also may be instances where a reporter uncovers information from non-police sources.   He goes to the police for confirmation.   An officer still can’t publicly confirm the information.   But he may strike a deal with the reporter.   If the reporter agrees to delay reporting the information, an officer may promise him a scoop with more details later.   However, the reporter knows that he’s not the only journalist working the story.   If he delays, the reporter may soon be seeing his story on another news outlet.  These are decisions that journalists make daily.    So when next you hear a reporter with police speak, think about what’s going on off the air.

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