Wick Communications

Calling all citizens

In Online media on August 9, 2012 at 3:40 pm

Last Friday morning, Justin Lloyd Abrahamson ran out of time on the Glenn Highway between Wasilla and Anchorage, Alaska. After fleeing police and leaving his burning car on the road, he was shot and killed while threatening officers with a bat. It was nearly the morning commute, and thousands of Mat-Su Valley residents count on the highway as the only way to get to work. Enter Mat-Su Frontiersman Editor Heather Resz, who was waking up and preparing for the day. As she checked her overnight email, she considered how to cover the day’s big news, when there was n o.

A day later, Heather sent me an email describing how she went about solving that coverage riddle. Luckily, she had a trick up her sleeve. Here’s Heather’s account. – Clay

I’m writing the 44th version of a breaking news story that started when I checked my email around 6 a.m., Aug. 3.

A man fled in a vehicle when police tried to stop him. It was the second time in two months he would face failure to stop at the direction of police officer charges. And it would be his last.

He didn’t use his turn signal, led police on a 30-mile chase and then, when his car caught fire, he fled on foot. When he stopped to brandish a bat at troopers, he was shot and killed along the Glenn Highway.

This tied up traffic for hours because there is only one road to Anchorage, where a third of our population works. From 4 a.m. to 1 p.m. the highway was closed heading north. One of the southbound lanes also was closed where the suspect’s car caught fire and burned. …

So I couldn’t get anywhere near the accident scene to get photos. And once I leave my house or office, I can’t post to the website. The new Blox site doesn’t work with my iPhone.

I reported this story on the website as breaking news and on Facebook, too. While I waited for info to trickle in from troopers, I posted what I knew to Facebook and asked folks stuck in traffic for info. And I asked for photos. I can’t get there, but there are hundreds of my readers with camera phones there who can’t leave, but can get photos to Facebook, the Internet and to me.

Above are samples of what I got from my Facebook photo request. I got a photo of the burned out car – before troopers had released that the car had burned. And an aerial photo sent from a woman who decided to fly her plane to work after she heard the road was jammed.

Our competitors have photos of traffic backed up, or of troopers working the scene, but nothing of the burned car. And of course no aerial shot of the traffic stacked up.

That we can engage and deploy our readers as a vast force of “citizen journalists” in real time is a game changer for how we think about reporting the news.

Facebook gives us new opportunities to be relevant and provide useful information in real time. It’s a platform to engage in an exchange of information with our readers.

Separately, when I looked at our Facebook page this morning, I discovered that our community has started up a conversation about the number of trooper-involved shootings here lately. There have been something like 50 comments over the course of 12 hours. It’s civil and thoughtful conversation. I left them a proud cheering note.

Heather Resz

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