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Old December 26th, 2010, 08:14 AM   #1
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Law enforcement trend kills local news.

A trend in the United States is taking it's toll on local news. Just weeks away from pulling the trigger on 14k worth of new gear, I learn that the news in my county has been killed, this was to be the bulk of my sales. Local TV stations and news stringers use radio communications to follow breaking stories, so did the criminals. For years the scanner technology chased the technology of emergency services. At first the technology went to higher frequencies, then to trunked, then to trunked digital and now to fully encrypted trunked digital with no hope of scanner technology to de-crypt it. Although Fire/EMS is not encrypted yet, it is sure to follow.

The evening news now has few stories from my area and it is likely the trend will continue. First it was the Florida HIghway Patrol and now the county, which also leases it's system to all the local police departments. I had thought of asking for a non-transmitting radio but I would probably be laughed at. I had always thought that the news media provided a check and balance for the citizens to see what goes on in their county, now that is gone. I realize that some news organizations are practicing what I call dramalism instead of journalism, but now law enforcment has few public eyes watching what it does.

I am sure this trend will continue as other municipalities replace their systems. There was no open discussion that I know of to let the people know encrypting was going to be activated. It is certainly good to keep criminals from hearing law enforcement, but sometimes things can get out of control when there is no public scrutiny.
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Old December 26th, 2010, 09:06 AM   #2
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Milwaukee, WI has switched to a digital radio system for the police and it has been all over the news for some time now because the sytem switchover has taken several years and cost millions and has had many issues and cost overruns and still doesn't work right. The radio reception is spotty, far worse than the old radios. Recently, there were no police communications for a couple of hours because a tech somewhere in a data center did some sort of system upgrade without informing the right people and it took down the whole thing. Isn't technology grand?

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Old December 26th, 2010, 11:37 AM   #3
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Local news is being killed here in the UK too by giving journalists their own camera's mainly Sony Z5's, the quality of shooting is going out the window but hey at least its done cheaply! :0(
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Old December 26th, 2010, 12:03 PM   #4
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I'd be more worried about the sort of things that happen which aren't mentioned on the police radio. Perhaps the ambulance chasing is a easy route for journalists and they'll now need to dig deeper to fill their news programmes.
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Old December 26th, 2010, 12:40 PM   #5
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Hi Don
Timely post. Sorry about the change cutting into your business. It's going to hit me too, I've shot local news for years, but it's just a small part of my business currently. In six months our PD will be joining an existing regional secure digital comm system. No more listening in on my 20 year old Radio Shack portable VHF scanner! I'm told though that the Fire/Rescue service won't be joining in -- something about the digital system not working as well inside buildings, and the fire guys need good comm from inside buildings. They respond to most emergencies anyhow so I don't think it will be too bad.

So yes I agree there will be fewer journalists originating stories (or fewer news stringers), but think of all the surveillance video, cell phone video, and video-capable still cameras out there The police are increasingly under the watchful eye of the public. The footage isn't always professional but the TV stations do air it, and then journalists dig into the story. And of course that footage ends up on YouTube and other social media sites.
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Old December 26th, 2010, 01:22 PM   #6
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Yes, there is some scrutiny and footage, but a few counties like mine get there news from the Orlando area stations. With the economy the way it is and budgets slimming down, they pulled there live vans out of our county. Our local news channels look completely different, Instead of stringer footage they are more likely to wait until morning if the scene still exist. Combine all that together and there is basically no news, when there is, it is just a map graphic. There just isn't enough time to dig into a local story for outlying counties.
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Old December 26th, 2010, 01:57 PM   #7
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In Honolulu legitimate news agencies have been authorized to monitor the secure digital transmissions but the receivers are very costly.

Where I was working the radios were placed at the city editors desks but often the people sitting there didn't know what to listen for, and often missed critical spot news. Also, they were busy trying to edit copy and weren't listening to the chatter.

When VHF scanners were in the photo department, the photographers knew exactly what was being transmitted and could ID a good spot news call immediately. Also, some of the photographers had scanners in their cars.

But that was 15 years ago.

Nowadays you seldom see an actual structure fire photo in the paper. For one thing there are fewer staff photographers. And by the time anyone gets to the scene, the fire's been extinguished. In some cases the firefighters aren't even on the scene anymore.

With digital cameras getting better and prices falling, video has become a widespread pastime. While TV news crews can't be everywhere, quite often there are people on hand who have video cameras and will shoot the incident. Of course the quality is rarely on par with a pro. But editors' expectations have dropped as fast as the news budgets, and having any footage is better than having nothing at all.
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Old December 26th, 2010, 04:22 PM   #8
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I know this is a significant business issue for many here.

However, I'd like to note that there's a much BROADER context for this issue. While everyone understands the need for emergency notification and government action - I wonder how many people understand how the "old" system has skewed the very meaning of the word NEWS over the public communications era?

Here's how it developed, from my perspective as someone who's often had their toes dipped into the "news business" over the past decades.

Starts with the telegraph. Little info passes so it's critical to PRIORITIZE what is news and what isn't. Public Safety gets a position near the top of the heap. Fire alarms and Police call boxes become among the FIRST public "wirings" in major cities. Fast forward, to the WIRE SERVICE era. I still remember the excitement of hearing a five or six bell alert come across the UPI or the AP machine in the first radio station I worked in. What DROVE those alerts? Again, the public service sectors of police, fire, and emergency services. EVERY newspaper's news room, plus ALL local radio and TV stations were hooked into those info streams first and foremost.

The result? The famous "If it bleeds it leads" mentality. News - was often directly associated with emergencies - and I suspect that for many, NEWS also became essentially equivalent to BAD NEWS.

Why? Because the bells didn't ring on the wire machines unless an ALARM went off somewhere and ALARMs almost always meant something was going WRONG.

The way I started to think of it was this: No freeking ALARM bell will go off if you're neighbor's kid wins a National Merit Scholarship Award. No alarm bell will go off if someone makes a significant contribution to a local charity, or if the neighbors get together and clean up a dirty alleyway.

Alarms ONLY go off when something bad happens.

Wouldn't it be cool, if there WERE a system when if something good happened, you could hit an UN-ALARM button! I'd LOVE to see those balancing statistics reported every day!

We've lived for generations now, where the public airwaves have been largely driven by PROBLEMS. Is it any wonder we're so divided and divisive a culture?

Maybe if this coming encryption tamps down the constant flow of the large and small disasters that are not as common or as pervasive as the news leads us to believe, we can start to understand that in a society largely made up of decent people. (Criminology tells us, IIRC, that about 6 percent of most populations end up imprisoned - so it seams rational that the decent folk FAR outweigh the knuckleheads!) something you'd NEVER guess from watching the news and crime shows incessantly.

So while I sympathize with the folks here who make their livings off the old system - I do think that it's just possible that a few decades of toning down the alarms might just make things a bit EASIER for the collective psyche of this country.

Just a thought.

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Old December 26th, 2010, 05:00 PM   #9
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Good news does in fact make the news, examples, recently a homeless man turned in a large amount of money he found, motorcycle rides during bikeweek for charities, every year someone makes the news in central florida dropping a rare coin into a holiday bell ringers pot, people whose homes burn down get many donations, bags of money fell from a brinks truck, they were turned in by a small child and his family.

I understand your philosophy entirely. However, one local station out of Daytona tried the good news theory and lost most of it's viewers and ratings. The truth is, sadly, what makes people watch makes people money.

I think that the dramalism queens and kings (the ones that display breaking news that is four days old and love to have 24 hour broadcast about murdered children) have hurt journalism. I have had a female deputy threaten to arrest me at a scene as I arrived simply because she thought "you news people are disgusting, I should arrest you for something". Two big broadcast networks that are unable to control themselves in a professional manor have done irreversible damage to journalism.

There is a flip side to this, Imagine a government without constraint. We have serial killers, we have child abusers, we have bad intersections and bad roads. How do we find out about these things. When a city council member breaks the law, a law enforcement officer has to arrest them, These two groups work hand in hand in the same building. Their raises are controlled by local governments, the officers are controlled by local government. There have been way to many instances where the rich or the powerful get away with crime. An NFL player kills a man while drinking and driving, he paid only a fine and money to the family. Judges and lawyers get DUI's, there reduced or thrown out on technicality. Do we want government to run unchecked. I do not, we have enough of this kind of thing happening in front of us now much less if the people loose their ears and eyes. The media, in an imperfect way, is much needed in the U.S. it is all to corrupt already.
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Old December 26th, 2010, 05:23 PM   #10
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From what I've heard the Baltimore City Fire and Police departments were supposed to switch over to a new radio system, rendering all of our scanners obsolete, but I think it's been postponed. My scanner worked just fine yesterday.

The City gave our station (and I believe the other station's in the market) 2 desktop radios without microphones. They're the real deal - they even have emergency buttons!
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Old December 26th, 2010, 10:13 PM   #11
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In Brisbane we had the same situation of the police turning to the encrypted digital radio system. A polite stink was raised by the media here but they all knew that it was no use in the end. They're now more reliant on the police media communications unit.

The other thing they do is to encourage the public to send in their pics/video etc.

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Old December 27th, 2010, 05:00 AM   #12
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Oddly, the news media in the UK may well have used scanners covertly in the past, but it was always illegal. Back in the 70s listening in to the police could get the equipment confiscated and a hefty fine. New crews may well have used scanners, but always secretly, and turning up to a scene of a crime was a dead givaway. The entire UK has moved to a digital system call Airwave-Tetra, and despite initial teething troubles it now works pretty well as they filled in the dead spots. Just recently, ambulance and fire have moved to it in my own area rendering scanners useless. As listening in was never a built-in part of the news gathering system here it's had minimal impact. Communications privacy has always been part of our laws here. When US imported CB radios first came in after the Convoy movie - the government spent ages attempting to find the users and stop them.

The law here is quite precise - and is generally understood to mean that it is an offence to have in your possession (not even use) equipment for which a license is not available. So as you can't get a license to listen to the Police, if you had a scanner that could hear them, they could remove it, and if they wanted to arest and fine you!

Listening to aircraft is their current working area. You can get an aeronautical license, so having a receiver is not strictly speaking illegal, so although aircraft enthusiasts might get moved on for causing an obstruction to the highway for example, they ignore the radio kit. However, recently enthusiasts made Heathrow Airport Control Tower available on the internet (the same way people do all over the world) - this, however was shut down very quickly, citing the terrorism aspect.

So the states has just had one of it's people's rights removed by simply changing technology - and I suspect that's just the way it is.
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Old December 27th, 2010, 06:17 AM   #13
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Listening to aircraft is their current working area. You can get an aeronautical license, so having a receiver is not strictly speaking illegal, so although aircraft enthusiasts might get moved on for causing an obstruction to the highway for example, they ignore the radio kit.
I seem to remember that the laws here date back to the beginnings of Wireless Telegraphy when it was considered that sending a radio message was like posting a letter, and it was an offence to "read" it if you were not the intended recipient. I must confess to "steaming open" AIr Traffic Control messages not intended for me!
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Old December 27th, 2010, 06:34 AM   #14
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Throughout the N.I. troubles the most of the information about incidents was gathered initially through the police & army press offices, plus calls to the various press people of the political wings of various paramilitary organisations. It was then up to the journalists to interpret what was going on, they couldn't always take things at face value.

The area was so large that you couldn't cover it just listening to the local police radios. Having said that, there were local people who did gave tips offs from listening to the police radio.
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Old December 27th, 2010, 11:23 AM   #15
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I can see your point when your income is news coverage related. I agree that the public has the right to know. But there is another side. When I was a federal law enforcement officer at a large metro recreation area, dealing with the press while an "incident" was underway tied up personnel resources and many times hindered our operation. I can remember many times when hovering news helicopters were so numerous and deafening that "life and death" related communications were nearly impossible. Many times a dozen news stations would show up at one time creating a circus type atmosphere. The standing comment with officers when something serious happened was "lets work fast as we can to get this over with before the press arrives."
When we changed to encrypted digital radio communications the problems with the press improved by about 95%. Of course our problems with the media was mostly respresentative of being in a large media market area. As a contrast I worked for a short time in a more rural area and the one newspaper guy was never a problem. In fact we would usually call him when something news worth happened.
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