“Sure what would I buy a paper for? It’ll be all over the internet.” That was one of the many comments this column was within earshot of during last week’s stand-off in Penrose Lane, which thankfully came to a peaceful conclusion.
An information vacuum inevitably leads to an absence of facts and the creation of fibs, exaggerations and downright lies, and that’s exactly what happened during this particular episode.
Firstly, one can’t expect the Gardaí to furnish the media with much in the way of information in the middle of so public and sensitive an event such as last Wednesday’s.
It might be frustrating from a journalistic perspective, but officers and negotiators had matters of greater primacy to deal with on Penrose Lane than satisfying our thirst for detail.
Just shy of midnight, the two reporters who remained at the scene until its conclusion were afforded a briefing from Superintendent Chris Delaney in his Waterford Garda Station office. And with our facts gathered and noted, both Sinead Ahearne of WLRfm and I had done all that we could do.
But the nature of the initial media response didn’t go down well with those contributors to several internet message boards, one of whom branded our efforts as “disgraceful”.
Having stood for almost three hours on the streets surrounding Penrose Lane that evening, attempting to establish what exactly was going on; let me tell you, facts were hard to come by.
And without facts, there’s little that can be aired or printed in a forum fit for public consumption – to report without the facts is perhaps the most stupid thing a journalist can do.
And who among us would want sensationalist coverage of such a stand-off? Sadly, quite a few given that there were 16 pages devoted to last week’s incident (by noon on Thursday) on one website that shall not be afforded the oxygen of branded publicity in this column.
Look at it this way: how often has one looked at 24-hour news coverage of a ‘talking head’ reporter standing outside a potential crime scene while there is absolutely nothing of note going on?
How often have we seen reporters on location repeating the same details every 15 minutes, i.e. delivering news that isn’t new?
Is that what Irish media consumers want our industry to morph into, a morass of speculation amidst the absence of cold, hard, undisputed facts? I sincerely hope not.
But there’s a social context to last week’s incident that needs referencing here. That so many web users on a variety of forums felt what was going on in the heart of the city represented some form of comedic entertainment was pretty appalling.
To the families and friends of those directly affected by what occurred last week, this was a deeply upsetting and troubling night. And it’s one that won’t leave them quickly.
One youngster at the scene last week purported to having video coverage of the evening’s developments and approached one photographer, offering him the footage in return for cash. Needless to say, the offer was refused.
At various points around the area cordoned off by the Gardaí, members of the public stood in their dozens, some intrigued by the sight of so many officers, others gravely concerned by the evening’s developments.
To the credit of the vast majority of people whom I spoke to, the instant gratification which internet users sought in relation to the incident was thankfully in short supply.
Yes, there were a few excitable teenagers amongst the throng who, through lack of wisdom simply couldn’t grasp the potential gravity of the situation.
But those with a few more rings around the bark saw it for what it was: a troubling situation which the vast majority of citizens wished had never transpired in the first place.
Just nine days previously at City Hall, outgoing Mayor Mary Roche had justly described Waterford as “the safest city in Ireland”.
And while there are problems in several of our neighbourhoods, none carry the weight of those that have blighted communities in West Dublin and parts of Limerick City for several years.
That’s not to deny the fact that several significant social knots require untangling in the city: it’s just that ours are not quite on the scale currently facing other urban authorities.
Community policing in Waterford has proven both a great success and an incredibly worthwhile exercise in recent years.
Youngsters who would previously have run in the opposite direction from an officer now know some Gardaí on a first name basis. And this is all happening quietly. There’s no fanfare from Ballybricken about this work; sleeves have been rolled up and things have got better. And of course it remains a work in progress.
Sections of the media and public alike tend to jump up and down incandescently when the force makes a cock-up.
Isn’t it funny how the same such individuals have precious little to say when our Gardaí commendably fulfil their duties in resolve often tense and potentially threatening situations?
Waterford’s finest (with assistance from Cork) did their jobs well last midweek. And that’s a statement that no online gobshite hiding behind the veil of anonymity can even attempt to counter-argue.