From The Rapidian staff
Each week, a Rapidian staffer will publish a piece related to goings-on at The Rapidian, developments in the world of citizen journalism and tips for making the most of the site.
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From The Rapidian staff: You probably wouldn’t imagine being a contributor to the Rapidian would put you on the police department’s radar but sometimes that’s exactly where you want to be.
Reporters often find situations where the information they want is in the hands of, or can be found with the help of, the police. Knowing who to contact at the police department is the first step in getting that information. Contacting that source and asking the right questions or being prepared to provide some information of your own is the next step.
If you haven’t been working the night shift as a cop reporter for a large newspaper in the last few years, chances are you’re not friendly with any of the police in town. That is OK because the police have a go-to officer who usually provides press agents with information. In Grand Rapids, in most cases, that officer is Police Chief Kevin Belk. Belk can be reached at (616) 456- 3400 or at email@example.com. Without knowing when and where a crime will be committed and who’s doing the committing, you might not have any facts going into the story and contacting the GRPD will be your only hope. On the off chance you do hear of a crime in progress and can get to the scene before the police leave, jump on it.
At the scene of a crime, you can talk to witnesses and get a visual sense of the scene. That will definitely help you flesh out your story. More importantly, you’ll get to meet the officers or detectives who can provide more information as the story progresses. If the police narrow down a suspect, you’ll have that info coming the next time you call your source. If that suspect is sent to trial, you’ll be able to contact the officer you met and find out more. And sentencing information will follow. Along the way, you’ll make connections with the police department clerks, court staffers and other gatekeepers to the information you need.
Like making strong connections in life, making strong professional connections as a reporter requires making an effort to understand your sources’ work. If it’s possible to plan a ride-along with a police officer, do so. This will help you understand how they work and how you can work with them.
Check the daily log of crimes that the police department keeps a record of. Check the crime mapping feature at http://www.crimemapping.com/map/mi/grandrapids to find out what crimes are happening where and track trends. Keep an ear to the ground and find out from social media networks when a crime has occurred and the details.
I like to ride bikes, make cookies and feed the homeless peanut butter sandwiches. I really like Grand Rapids.