Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION
Not quite all the news that's fit to print...
Tired of reading every day about all the violence going on in Winnipeg?Well, consider this - what we report on daily is just the tiniest fraction of what is actually happening out there. The vast majority of crime stories never get reported - by police to the media, and/or by the media to the public.And you may be surprised to hear how much the police control what you read about.Officers who work in the public information office usually just pick a few incidents each day they consider newsworthy - obviously murders always make the grade, but after that it's pretty much a crapshoot what you'll get.My colleague, James Turner
, and I regularly find what we would consider to be major crime stories while searching through the daily docket at the downtown Law Courts. They are cases that were never publicly released and only uncovered through our professional "sleuthing."A perfect example is this week's "scoop" about a Winnipeg man who got caught listening into his ex-girlfriend's private phone calls while stalking her. (Story is HERE
) His 2005 arrest was never announced by police, likely because they seem to have a policy that, other than homicide cases, domestic-related incidents won't be released regardless of how unusual or serious they may be.Another was last week's bizarre trial of a Winnipeg man who stabbed his mistress inside a downtown office building, then left behind a series of disturbing writings outlining their fractured affair and his plans to kill her. The woman suffered critical injuries and was lucky to survive. It's a case unlike any other I've seen in my 13-plus years of covering crime in this city - and the first I (and the public) ever heard about it was at the trial. (Story HERE
)I could go on and on listing similar examples that have happened in recent weeks, months and years.We run into similar hurdles when it comes to youth matters. James is covering youth crime like no other reporter in this city and routinely comes up with hidden gems while down at the Manitoba Youth Centre. Yet he often finds himself struggling to fill in the blanks because police are reluctant to comment.A perfect example occurred earlier this week, when James saw a young man who was charged with four counts of assault with a weapon, along with several other offences. James asked the police for some additional details - but was told they would not be able to accommodate him.Apparently they had concerns about potentially violating the Youth Criminal Justice Act, although we're still trying to figure out what they were.The media also gets criticized at times for not reporting enough details on stories we do publish, that the information is too vague.Sometimes it's the best we can do.Two good examples this week - Winnipeg police released information that they are currently conducting a missing persons investigation and have identified a scene of interest at a local dump. They won't tell us anything else - who the missing person is, whether its a male or female, the age, how long they've been gone, whether any arrests have been made, etc.Police also sent out a cryptically worded release on Wednesday morning telling the media they were currently investigating an incident that had happened that morning in the North End - but that they would be saying absolutely nothing more about it. We're still waiting to hear what exactly they're talking about - a murder? abduction? drive-by shooting? jaywalking arrest?Sometimes, "sources" bail us out and allow us to give you a bigger picture of what's happening.Such was the case this week when I learned - through a source - that a man had been shot and seriously wounded in Thompson. I also learned his identity, and the fact the attack was likely linked to an ongoing string of related incidents in the northern community. (Story is HERE
)Fortunately, I was able to get other confirmation on the source information that left me confident enough to take the story to print - even though police initially hadn't said a word about any shooting, then would only confirm that one had happened but gave no other details including the victim's identity, number of shots or the extent of his injuries.None of this blog entry is meant to be taken as me "whining" - I'm perfectly content with being left to my own devices to dig, dig, dig for exclusive tales and details. In the journalism game, we always like to beat the competition, and the fact police release so little only feeds my personal hunger to find out what's happening on the streets. And judging by the multiple crime stories James and I pen every day, we're certainly not suffering from a shortage of things to write about.
However, this entry is meant to explain a little more about the the police/media "game" is played and why there's a very good chance you might not end up reading tomorrow about why there were six police cars and an ambulance rushing down your street last night.