Lynchburg, VA- Communication students from Liberty University learned that the police and the news media can actually work together in keeping the public safe during a speech on crime and news media coverage.
Lt. Alan Faircloth of the Lynchburg Police Department (LPD) and WSET Senior Anchor Noreen Turyn from ABC 13 informed students of their respective roles.
Faircloth has been with the LPD for 29 years and is currently working as a part-time Public Information Officer (PIO).
“Our job is to work closely with the media and with other people that are looking for information in general or specifically regarding crime scenes or the police,” Faircloth said.
Turyn has worked 20 years at WSET switching from various news jobs from reporting to producing before rising as the managing editor.
“My beat for all my years has been coverage of courts and crimes. I’ve been to many crime scenes and I love it. My dad worked in the FBI for many years so it’s something that’s in my blood,” Turyn said.
“Lynchburg is fortunate to have a law enforcement agency and local media that get along so well because usually the law and the media go at each other all the time. You have the law saying ‘We have the information, you don’t’ and the media wants information but they don’t get it,” Faircloth said.
Students also learned that the media and law enforcement tend to misunderstand each other. News reporters would inquire about certain information during crime scenes and police supervisors would have no idea or any background about that information.
As a result, the PIO was born. The PIO is designated to disperse public information upon request. The LPD has implemented the PIO service in its agency for three years now.
“We had to have a central source of releasing information because of conflicting information, so having a PIO made things a lot easier,” Faircloth said.
However, Faircloth also noted that a PIO is not always available during various police investigations or would not disclose certain information due to reasons such as protecting family privacy, classified information or suspect data crucial to the preservation of an investigation.
Turyn concurs, having an understanding of what information the police can withhold is crucial to bridging the relationship gap between law enforcement and the media.
“we don’t want to ruin an investigation or have a murder go unsolved just because we released information [we should not have]. Our role in the media is to make sure the public stays safe and is informed,” Turyn said.
In maintaining that role, Turyn added that reporters take what they can get from the police in order to inform the public about dark alleys, murders, random killings or drug busts all for the sake of public safety.
“It is true that we have a really great relationship with the LPD and it is good that we can get the most information we need,” Turyn said.
She also added that most information is available to reporters if they build a rapport with police officers and earn their trust. In several other counties, more polices districts are more reluctant because of the distrusting views towards reporters.
Trust between the police and the media is very important because it can bring the two closer to solving a crime like a murder that took place in Campbell County Turyn covered six months ago.
“We were covering the murder of a man who was involved with a pagan bike gang and we decided to do a story on pagans. An officer I knew stopped us short and told us ‘the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree’.” Turyn said.
This gave Turyn a clue as she later found out that the biker was murdered by his own wife.
It also works the other way around, reporters can give police information they found out about a certain investigation which can help police solve the crime.
Despite the improved relationship among the press and the police, sometimes the media is also responsible for keeping the police in line and will report stories of questionable ethics among the police.
The reporter also stressed to students that the police cannot always give all the information that is needed during a report. She advised a bargaining process of information or investigating is a good way to get the story.
“”You don’t have to get everything from the police, ask people what they saw, go from door to door and just ask,”" Turyn said.
At the end of the speech, Turyn and Faircloth gave more technical advice to students on covering crime scenes. Including reporting ethics, discretion and other dependent rules but most importantly- freedom of the press.
“We are the public and we have the right to information, as a reporter you should know when you are allowed to report and when to back off but never let anyone intimidate you,” Turyn said.
“Yes, never take no for an answer, this might be cliché but you have to think outside the box. Always ask why. Don’t be afraid to develop meaningful relationships with other people. Work on building that trust,” Faircloth said.