Slow journalism is challenging in a social media world

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As the tragic events unfolded last Thursday, November 19, culminating in the loss of a beloved community member, cut down in the performance of his duty as a police officer, The Expositor was struggling to meet the demands for information coming from a terrified community while wrestling with our own emotions—we have many interactions with Island police officers in the course of our respective duties.

In the normal course of events, The Expositor is a “slow news” outlet. Being a community newspaper, published weekly, we are accustomed to having the benefit of several days in which to gather and verify information. The internet has brought with it new challenges as many Islanders and expatriates quite understandably look to our channels for up-to-date and accurate news and current events taking place on Manitoulin Island, which we fulfill.

Each Wednesday, The Expositor shines a light on news and events taking place across Manitoulin with our print and online versions—publications we are proud to stand beside any to be found in much larger jurisdictions.  

This duality puts us in a challenging situation, however, challenges that bring immense responsibilities—especially during situations that present a real and present danger to many of those involved.

Posting the location of police officers, the tactics being pursued and the resources being deployed all present risks that this past week’s events have starkly illustrated. That is something we carefully avoid.

The rule of thumb in journalism, a gold standard if you will, is to seek three unrelated sources for information in order to verify that information is accurate. Like any such “standard,” the quality and credibility of those sources play a significant role in assessing that equation. But even the most credible of sources can fall short of the mark during the heat of the moment. It becomes a judgement call and we endeavour to use our best efforts in this regard.

The staff from The Expositor have travelled the length and breadth of the Island, interviewing as many people as possible to create thoughtful and meaningful articles to provide an accurate reflection of what this tragedy has meant to the people of Manitoulin. That is a role of “slow news” and it is a role in which The Expositor has always taken great care and pride.

There will always be a need for “immediate” news, but such news must be filtered through responsible reporting for the safety of both the public, the police and those other emergency services that may be responding. We try to post accurate and responsible information as soon as possible, but “fast,” by its very definition, is rarely as accurate as “slow news.” They serve vastly different purposes.

To access accurate news, The Expositor often relies on the support of the communications services of the police services involved, but those services are often strained by the need to have all hands on deck during an emergency and must weigh the same safety concerns.

National news outlets often rush in for the “big” story, only to just as quickly dissappear once the story has run its course. The Expositor, on the other hand, is here for the long haul.

In light of concerns that have been expressed about the accuracy and timeliness of information The Expositor was able to provide as the tragic events unfolded on Manitoulin, we felt it important to respond to those concerns.

As we pen the words that will fill this week’s paper, our hearts and minds are overshadowed by a horrible and undisputed fact. A good man, a family man, a husband, a dad, a friend, a colleague and a bastion of our Island community, an outstanding human being who has touched so many lives, so very deeply, has been so unfairly wrenched from our midst, far, far too soon while serving our community—service in which he laid down his life.

PC Marc Hovingh will live on in the hearts and memory of the Manitoulin community and that broader family which is the OPP. Even as we remember this remarkable human being and offer our condolences to his bereaved family, let us also spare a thought through these challenging times for his brothers and sisters in uniform. Those extraordinary individuals who leave their families at the beginning of each and every shift with demonstrable knowledge they may not return home safely—and who, even as they were mourning their fallen brother, stood to the ramparts to protect the community in another fraught incident on­ Sunday in Western Manitoulin.

They are a thin blue line deserving of our respect, our honour and our understanding as they strive to fulfill the motto—to serve and protect. They are truly, “Heroes in life, not in death.”