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A police view of citizen-journalists

Several Daily News staff members had the pleasure to meet with Norfolk Police Chief Don Miller recently as a way to get better acquainted and discuss media coverage of police-related activities.

He’s no stranger to working with the Daily News and other local news organizations, but in his relatively new role as police chief, he has some additional responsibilities to deal with now.

We’ve had a good working relationship with the Norfolk Police Division over the years. We respect and appreciate the division’s efforts to provide information about arrests and other police matters on a timely basis, and I think they appreciate that the Daily News is professional and respectful in its dealings with police officers.

As part of our conversation with the chief, the topic of citizen journalism was brought up.

In theory, the notion of citizens helping report news has some advantages.

Journalists can’t be everywhere and with the advent of high-quality smartphone cameras, videos and photos taken by citizens who happen upon an accident or something similar can add to the content provided by full-time journalists.

But the reality is that citizen journalism also has its problems, as both the police division and the Daily News recognize and agree on.

There are individuals, for example, who enjoy listening to a police scanner and rush to the scene of an accident, fire or other emergency.

As Chief Miller says, in some cases, those citizens drive recklessly and put others in danger in their rush to get to the scene as quickly as possible. In some cases, it’s a matter of curiosity on the part of citizens. In others, it may be because some media outlets pay citizens for submitted photos and videos (the Daily News doesn’t.)

In either case, what happens is that an accident scene can become more crowded than it should be. Media professionals are doing their job when they show up, but now they may be joined by individuals who are acting as citizen journalists — and not always behaving or acting professionally.

From our perspective, we’d prefer law enforcement and other agencies to be able to distinguish between media professionals and citizen journalists and grant access accordingly.

But we understand and appreciate the dilemma Chief Miller and other law enforcement representatives find themselves in.

They have to treat anyone with a camera or a smartphone in the same way. Otherwise, they risk being accused of restricting someone’s First Amendment rights and finding themselves subjected to legal action.

That can make it harder for media professionals to provide the kind of information that readers and online users want.

There’s no easy solution here.

We appreciated having the chance to visit with Chief Miller, just as we’ve enjoyed other, similar visits with Madison County Sheriff Todd Volk and others in the public safety sector.

Keeping lines of communication open helps all parties concerned.

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