Digital Transparency: How we cover...

This article goes over how we cover broad topics that appear frequently in the news cycle — including crime, school threats, runaways/missing persons, suicide and the coronavirus pandemic.

Have any further questions? You can email trust@wsls.com.

Crime

Overall coverage

You may have noticed, but we have changed the way we report crime. We felt that we previously were not providing a service to our community by reporting every crime, or covering a petit crime just because it was sent to us in a press release.

Here’s how we go about covering crime now:

Is there a threat to the community?

Because of this, you may see less reporting on crimes like petit larceny, minor shoplifting, minor drug possession, and stories that are solely based on an unusual mugshot.

What is the value to our viewers?

Would it be a disservice to those who live in that neighborhood if we DON’T cover what happened?

Mass shooting policy

We will put victims first in coverage then go to suspect information.

We will only air the suspect’s name and picture for 24 hours from its release. After that time, we will only refer to the person as “the gunman,” “the shooter,” or other language that is appropriate. If it is clear they were behind the crime, we will not use “suspect” or “alleged.”

When new information/background arises concerning the shooter, we may choose to name the individual and show their picture again. Facts are essential to dispel misinformation and inaccurate assumptions, so we cannot ignore that. If the individual goes to court, we will use the video of them from those appearances, name them in the beginning of the script and then refer to them as “the gunman.” The key is using the name and images sparingly as to not glorify a horrific act of violence.

Mug shot usage
When we will use mugshots:
  • Wanted for violent crime
  • Charged with violent crime
    • Murder, armed robbery, abuse, etc.
  • Show it on initial arrest, and early details (ex: Day of, day after)
  • On trial, show court video
  • Charged with drug distribution
  • Grand larceny (subject to discussion)
When we will not use mugshots:
  • Charged with drug possession
  • Petit larceny
  • No mugshots / stories when the story is solely based around the notion of the mugshot itself”
  • If/When charges are dropped against an individual

School threats

When to report:

  • Threat to public safety
  • Involves multiple school districts addressing
  • Founded/credible threat leading to large police presence
  • Weapon found
  • School districts make it clear they are concerned
  • Charges filed

When not to report:

  • When it’s the first time we’re hearing about an incident and it’s been found there was never a true threat, no charges filed
  • Investigating rumors
  • Talk of weapon on campus, but no weapon found
  • School district says threat originated elsewhere/misunderstanding

Questions we ask ourselves when deciding how to proceed:

  • What’s the viewer benefit?
  • What is the news value?

Runaways and missing persons

The way we cover runaways and missing persons will always be a case-by-case basis as each situation is different. Here are some steps we take when deciding how to proceed.

  1. Reach out to law enforcement for more information. Is the person believed to be in danger? Do they have a serious health condition? Are they a runaway?
  2. What is the person’s age?

If it’s determined that the person is a runaway, then we will stray away from reporting since there is less of an element of danger.

Suicide

Suicide is recognized as a public health issue, not a crime — which means we must take extra care when discerning if and how to cover these situations.

We will not report on suicide unless a well-known community member was involved or there is a greater local impact.

In the rare instances where we do report on suicides, we will not release the name of the person involved.

Coronavirus pandemic

When it comes to coverage on the coronavirus pandemic, our goal is to keep community members informed rather than throw them into panic mode.

We understand that many of you are tired of hearing about COVID-19; however, it is our duty as journalists to distribute data and information that is accurate, up-to-date and easily accessible so that you are equipped with the tools needed to make an informed decision.

Since COVID-19 first emerged in Dec. 2019, nearly 6.63 million people have died from the virus, with more than 22,000 COVID-19-related deaths reported in Virginia alone. We’ve been tracking COVID-19 cases, deaths and hospitalizations in Virginia since March 7, 2020, when Virginia’s very first case was reported.

All of our data comes from the Virginia Department of Health, and each day, we publish a Coronavirus article that includes the following:

  • Total coronavirus cases across the Commonwealth since March 2020
  • Newly reported daily cases
  • Average newly reported daily cases for the seven-day period and the prior seven-day period
  • A percentage comparison of the new reported daily cases for the seven-day period and the prior seven-day period
  • Breakdown of new cases by Virginia locality
  • Hospitalizations and hospital bed occupancy across the region
  • VDH map where cases have been reported
  • Statewide vaccination numbers

With our reporting, we strive to avoid alarmist language and instead, stick to the facts. If we have any questions or concerns about the information received from VDH, we contact officials with the health department.


About the Authors:

Samantha Smith joined WSLS 10’s award-winning digital team as a content producer in July 2018.

Jazmine Otey joined the 10 News team in February 2021.