All Of The Botched Reporting On Last Night's Detroit Fireworks 'Chaos'

Illustration for article titled All Of The Botched Reporting On Last Nights Detroit Fireworks Chaos

God forbid we ever have a terror situation here in Detroit, but if we were to rely on our local news stations for information in such a crisis, we'd surely be screwed.


Last night, maybe, supposedly, allegedly, who even knows, something happened at Hart Plaza, one of the best viewing spots for the annual Ford Fireworks along the Detroit River. WXYZ called it a "chaotic scene." WDIV said it was a "scare" with "tense moments." WJBK said one reporter saw hundreds of people running from the scene.

What no one could agree on is what exactly caused this scenario.

WXYZ: "Minutes into tonight's Detroit fireworks mass chaos broke out just blocks from Hart Plaza as people began running from what they believed to be gunshots. WXYZ-TV crews on the scene are being told that shots may have been fired. However, the Detroit Police Public Information Officer is telling us that they cannot confirm that any shots were fired."


WDIV: "Witnesses tell Local 4 that right after the fireworks show got started on the Detroit River a crowd of people, who thought shots were being fired in the area, ran for safety. Detroit police told Local 4 there were no shots fired Monday night downtown despite witness reports. Many people said they thought shots were fired."

WJBK: "Sources told Fox 2's Andrea Isom shots were fired in downtown Detroit near the fireworks show on the Detroit River."

So basically, "We can't confirm there was a shooting but there may have been a shooting" is what I get from this.

The night's biggest offender, WXYZ continued to run on the assumption that it was gunshots that caused the commotion by posting its speculative, free-of-detail report on Facebook.

Illustration for article titled All Of The Botched Reporting On Last Nights Detroit Fireworks Chaos

But then, after people were sufficiently frightened of ever coming back south of 8 Mile and the obligatory "LOLDETROIT" comments filled in, WXYZ anchor Stephen "If it's on, it must be true" Clark backtracked and #backchannel-ed some of his station's reporting.

to be clear—- we know there was a panic... we haven't confirmed any gunfire or injuries. #backchannel

— Stephen Clark (@stephenclark) June 25, 2013

No confirmation of a shooting, but there was a panic. RT @HoneyNectar17: @B_Helderop @stephenclark it was a shooting??! #backchannel

— Stephen Clark (@stephenclark) June 25, 2013

And also took time out for some more relevant details:

Thank you. Its a Donald Trump.RT @PreacherLady11: @stephenclark i like that bright blue tie - it's one of my favorite colors! #backchannel

— Stephen Clark (@stephenclark) June 25, 2013

But then informed us of WXYZ's newsgathering policy of "hey, it's not our job to confirm information!"

@terrybean @wxyzdetroit I'm trying to stress that there WAS a panic among UNCONFIRMED reports of shots fired. #backchannel

— Stephen Clark (@stephenclark) June 25, 2013

And (unintentionally?) 1. let us know about the station's other policy of just going with speculation — because who needs an official word? and 2. Told us that yelling "fire" in a crowded room is news enough:

If I'm in a crowd with my kids and somebody shouts GUNFIRE! I don't think I'm going to wait 'til its confirmed. #backchannel

— Stephen Clark (@stephenclark) June 25, 2013

And then...agreed that WXYZ kinda sorta fucked up?

@terrybean thank you. I wasn't particularly fond of the web headline either... but I can't win them all. #backchannel

— Stephen Clark (@stephenclark) June 25, 2013

Finally, WXYZ concluded with...

UPDATE: Police say no evidence of shots fired near Detroit fireworks.

— WXYZ Detroit (@wxyzdetroit) June 25, 2013

Our print media fared better with actual police input (which is good! Actual sources!), though they were still split on what happened exactly:

Illustration for article titled All Of The Botched Reporting On Last Nights Detroit Fireworks Chaos

(Afrenzy! *adds to possible names of my future child*) Or:

Illustration for article titled All Of The Botched Reporting On Last Nights Detroit Fireworks Chaos

And lest we leave out news radio, which decided to ride on the Unconfirmed Express even though it also spoke to police:

Police can’t confirm if shots fired during #Detroit fireworks « CBS Detroit

— WWJ950 (@WWJ950) June 25, 2013

So it's safe to say that in times of panic, we still haven't learned exactly how to inform the public about what exactly is going on. Boston marathon coverage, anyone?


To be sure, violence at the annual fireworks show has happened in the past and is bizarrely accepted as the norm. And no one is disagreeing that violent events should not be reported.

But what if maybe, just maybe, things changed for the better this year? And what if it wasn't gunshots, but maybe some other disturbance? Firecrackers? Echoes of the fireworks mistaken for gunshots? Car backfire? Aren't we all a little on edge these days? I get nervous hearing a balloon pop, honestly.


To run on presumption and presumption alone that it was gunshots speaks more to the thirst of our local media to put more blood on the airwaves than to actually do some responsible reporting. (WXYZ's ragged coverage side by side with that uber-boosting "Detroit 2020" series is especially disappointing and lets me know exactly where their priorities are.)

More importantly, with people really wanting Detroit to be this world-class city attracting all these young, millenial minds that are going to change the world through public art displays and food trucks and shit, shouldn't we demand world-class journalism to go along with it?


[Photo via AP]

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Group B-raaaaaaaaaap!

The Detroit Media Cartel (obtuse, I know, but if the shoe fits...) have long been renowned as the Peddlers of Panic, the Sultans of Sensationalism, and the Chroniclers of Corruption. They probably have a poster of the Red Navigator with a caption reading "Lest We Forget" in every meeting room.

There is a dichotomous problem with their very existence, as well as their means and endgame. On one hand, you will see them run stories about photogenic Millenials who are hoping to revitalize a downtrodden, but soulful city. It's the municipal version of "Rocky". In the same newscast, they will run footage of terrified crowds running from what seems to be a fireworks malfunction, and choose to label that as "POSSIBLE SHOOTING AT DTW FIREWORX OMGROFL!!!111". Picture is related:

It's been no secret for years now that the DMC (apologies to Jay-Z DeLorean) tries to prove that they yearn for more than bloodshed by peppering their reports with "Human Interest" pieces that are overwhelmingly about fundraiser carwashes in the Metro area, or about kind "benefactors" using their own hard-earned money to reopen and rebrand beloved restaurants or stores south of 8 Mile. None of those are bad things, but when paired with the typical gore and corruption stories which bookend them, it makes a statement that perhaps the news outlets aren't rooting for Detroit.

To be honest, why would we expect them to? "If it bleeds, it leads" has been the keystone philosophy of the nation's news media, and Detroit is no different. And broadcasting, news included, is a for-profit business model. Selling ad space is the name of the game, and sensationalism sells because it draws viewers. This is a finely crafted dance of piquing curiosity, often to the point of being misleading, which has evolved over the past 60+ years. Viewers may like feel good stories, but they will tune in by the thousands to see people get "shot at" during fireworks.

This is the point in my thread where people will start arguing about the tenets of Journalistic Integrity. While I believe it exists, I also believe that the local Detroit media don't adhere to it. Don't think of Journalistic Integrity as a law, but rather as a "Customer Service" philosophy, like the kind you'd see at any major retailer. Now, those retailers will tell everyone within earshot about how "Customer Service is the most important thing to us", but you and I know that is a lie. Anyone on the inside will tell you that Profit is #1, and that their Customer Service pledge is just a means to drive more revenue, and profit. That is what Journalistic Integrity is in Detroit's TV market; an empty promise made to make you feel better about digesting the junk they shove down your throats. It is bad journalism, and Detroit deserves better.

To you Detroit-hating Trolls: Yes, Detroit is violent. Yes, there is corruption, gang violence, narcotics, arson, vagrancy, vandalism, car jackings, robbery, uttering and publishing, larceny, prostitution, murder, jaywalking, muggings, and probably bootleg Girl Scout Thin Mints, too. Yes, them people's is living in Mad Max times now, and the Lions will probably still go 6-10 this season. But you know what it looks like to me? NYC in the 1970's. 4.5 of the 5 boroughs may as well have been Beirut or Belfast during their historical nadirs, but through hard work, public support, and a concerted effort of the (then) largest city population in the world, NYC has been transformed over the past 35+ years. Now 4 out of 5 boroughs are completely habitable (sorry Queens, its never gonna happen for you; blame Fran Drescher), even the meekest of tourists can ride the subway, and an entirely new community centered around fixed-gear bicycles and waxed mustaches has begun to flourish. If we can un-rot the Big Apple, then there is hope for Detroit.

My point, in all of this, is that the local Detroit TV news is doing the greatest disservice of all to Detroit. I'm not asking that they stop covering newsworthy events, I am only asking that they stop sensationalizing those that are not. A fireworks debacle is a story in itself, why add speculation of gunplay? It's a cheap trick to draw viewers, and you should all be ashamed. But I know they wont be, because they weren't ashamed of themselves for trying to manufacture your own Charles Ramsey, so I won't hold my breath. And even if one of their own tries to get involved and make a difference, they make no hesitation to rake them over the coals. Just ask Charles Pugh. It makes me sad that the outlet with the greatest potential to help the city does the most to tarnish it. Detroit is no idyllic Utopia, but it deserves better reporting. This may as well be a general indictment of most top-50 news markets. We all deserve better reporting.

There is one very obvious exception to this entire post: Jay Towers. You can't not love that guy!