Out Here: Few silver platters in this business
The other day, we got a tip that a worker at the Dixon Correctional Center had been walked off the prison's property. It was true, the Department of Corrections confirmed.
The agency revealed that a contracted worker had violated the prison's procedures, and the case had been referred to the Lee County state's attorney's office, which handles criminal prosecutions.
The state didn't provide many details, but we published a story based on what we knew.
Some of our Facebook commenters thought we should have waited until we got more information.
"I think it was Journalism 101 when I learned the W's of journalism. Who, what, when and why," one wrote. For this story, "Who: We don't know; what: something went on at the prison; when: sometime, we don't know; why: we don't know. Ace reporting, SVN. You make all the people of Mayberry proud."
Another reader wrote, "So what exactly was the point of even sharing this when you have nothing to report yet?"
Well, actually, there was something to report. A contracted worker had been taken off prison grounds and was under criminal investigation. And what makes this even more interesting was that this possible crime apparently happened at the place where people are housed in punishment for, well, committing crimes.
Did our story lack details? Of course, it did. That often happens. But does that mean we should have waited until we got every last morsel of information? If that was our policy, we would have few stories.
Our reader is right: In Journalism 101, you learn about the W's. But you're also taught that you often have to dig for information. No reporter should wait for a story to come on a silver platter.
Last month, after we got a tip that a Sterling firefighter had been charged with a sex crime, we asked the fire department about it. Minutes later, we got a news release that was labeled "for release upon inquiry." It obviously had been drafted before we called, in what can be termed only as a "no ask, no tell" policy.
In Rock Falls, we reported the other day about the city's warning that it would not renew the license of a mobile home park until it met codes. Residents feared they would be forced out with nowhere to live.
This news didn't come from the city. Residents came to us.
David Giuliani is a news editor for Sauk Valley Media. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 800-798-4085, ext. 525. Follow him on Twitter: @DGiuliani_SVM.