Shit going down in Las Vegas? Well it isn’t going to be on TV. Why’s that? Well, our local B-level news teams go home for dinner or something after the evening news. This isn’t LA where a car chase will get you a helicopter and breaking news at all hours of the night. No, in Las Vegas someone has to get dressed and made-up really quick, then fight traffic to get to the scene. Hopefully they’ve got a live truck with them and aren’t just livestreaming off their phone.
But what the hell do we need real time information for? We did just fine decades ago when it was all stale film and morning newspapers, right?
Wrong. Timely information keeps people alive and helps reduce panic, fear, and anxiety. Lack of information allows fears to grow and rumors to be amplified. Thus as we saw on Twitter: large police presence + man with a gun x recent mass shooting = active shooter. Of course, no one was killed and no shots fired, but you wouldn’t know that by the endless retweets of “active shooter” and “mass shooting,” etc.
While TMZ and Wheel of Fortune played on TV, a ticker crawled the news that some sort of incident was underway. So we had to turn to social media to parse the rumors to find some information. That was as much help as the reporters who showed up late to the party asking some cop working traffic control on the perimeter what was going on.
Media can’t even fill us in on the details when they do get on camera because they have to first get the alert almost by happenstance. Then they can start investigating, but the traditional source of identifying breaking news has been taken away from Las Vegas media, reducing them to nothing more than a member of the public, but with a wider audience.
News was slow to trickle out because Metro has encrypted their radio traffic, meaning that even high-end scanners can no longer bring in police broadcasts. This follows in the wake of the Mandalay Bay October 1 shooting, presumably because the public was able to listen in. Radio traffic fueled both conspiracy theories and criticism of Metro; neither of which Sheriff Lombardo wants in an election year.
The inability to monitor police radio in real time makes it impossible for the media or the public to somewhat accurately know what is happening. Even frenzied reports in a chaotic situation by police are better than what is often nothing more than speculation and rumor on social media. There is a time and place to encrypt radio traffic, like the records channel or SWAT movements during an October 1 type event, but not in your local, everyday time criminal environment.
I’ve read reports that some media outlets do get their scanners specially programmed by Metro to listen in, but this is not the solution it seems. At any time, Metro can end their ability to listen in. The sheriff could arbitrarily decide to take away a newspaper’s authorization because it published something critical about him. Independent journalists, such as myself, are totally shutout. That is a chilling effect on speech. So we go back to the world of “return to your home Citizen, we will tell you what you need to know.”
Non-state “approved” people like independent journalists need to be able to hear what’s going on too. The sad fact is that having the public being able to hear police radio chatter in real time, and record it, is a hindrance to upper echelons of police. They would rather release their own recording in response to a public records request (which costs more money than you would think) after the fact. It’s a little more nuanced than that, but police radio traffic in the clear, the overwhelming majority of the time, is not a big deal.
In conclusion, our local lamestream media sucks at its job unless news miraculously breaks either during or immediately before a broadcast. Additionally, in losing the ability to listen to Metro’s radios, we have lost much of our own ability to gather quality news.
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