As I waited in line at Subway last Saturday evening, the last thing I expected was for the Greencastle Fire Department to go blazing by. My gut decision to then find where they were going has inspired some reflection my own personal standards as a reporter.
I suppose there was some justification for that gut feeling. There could've been a car wreck blocking traffic somewhere east of town. There could've been low power lines. The thing is that I should've had my phone with me. I will credit Paul Wilson and his scanner on Facebook. When I hear sirens, I will check on his posts to see what's up.
The incident in question occurred on private property, and yet there it looked like the Banner Graphic was after a story. The crux, though, was the gentleman who asked me who I was. I took this as also wondering why I was even there as a non-first responder.
As far as I was concerned, this was going in as a medical run. He had no obligation to check in with me, but I — sort of snidely — told GFD's assistant chief that much. I appreciated him telling me the victim was alert. The situation could have been worse.
Monday's crash involving a utility pole near Greencastle High School was a different scenario. The motorists were not seriously hurt and the road was closed due to low power lines. I had a reason to be there, and it was to let people know why it happened.
I felt like I had ambulance-chased Saturday's incident, going against one of my basic tenets as a reporter. I think that ambulance chasing in the legal world can be akin to "If it bleeds, it leads" in the news world. It was one of those incidents which people didn't need to read about. The Banner Graphic is not — and never will be — paparazzi.
Perhaps I might be approaching this too sensitively. I was still there "doing my job." However, I take not getting in the way of our first responders seriously. I should only come in once the "dragon" has been "slain" or when an operation has been complete. That said, an initial article on those operations is sometimes necessary for their safety.
The last thing I wanted was to cause more distress for the family members who were there. As such, I kept my distance and took a few general photos of the scene. Never capturing victims directly is one core practice and just part of good reporting ethics.
I still feel that there was nothing to report on, and that it is best to treat it as a medical. I have said before that, if anything, I will only chase firetrucks. I shouldn't have last Saturday. This is about more than HIPAA violations and us always trying to "be first."
The man's question has resonated with me, and it is for the better. It was a fair one to ask of the random reporter type with a camera. It has encouraged a re-evaluation of whether we always have to "be there" and how our own professionalism dictates that.