How The Newsroom
Scanner Can Change Your Day

How The Newsroom Scanner Can Change Your Day

Written by Aletheia
🕒 September 16, 2018

If you’ve been in a newsroom for any amount of time, you’ve heard the screeches of a police scanner.

I have to admit, some of the stories that come through that small box are entertaining.

From the “naked subject refusing to leave the Walmart parking lot,” to the woman who’s demanding an officer because her neighbor’s yard trimmings are falling on her property…it takes all types, right?

But, if you sit long enough, you’ll hear more.

You’ll hear the stories of the faces you’ll likely never see, or whose story will never be told. The emergency calls that come through as a “possible 10-7,” or extreme trauma.

On occasion, you get the complete series of events, but many times, you’re left wondering how the story ends.

As the words echo off sound waves from the dispatch to police and EMS, then first responders to the nearest hospital or trauma center, it’s nearly impossible to not get attached to certain stories.

It leaves me wondering, as I sit at my desk with a lukewarm cup of almost acceptable coffee, how do they go on? How do these victims—the sick and suffering, the fearful, the desperate—overcome this moment?

“I have an adult male, terminal cancer patient who says the pain is too much. He can’t take it anymore and he’s going to 10-7 himself. He hung up, and I can’t get him back on the line. EMS en route…” Who will tell his story?

“Possible drowning. Child pulled from hotel pool. Unresponsive. Caller is not sure how long the child was underwater. CPR in progress. EMS en route…” How could these parents possibly know that two days ago when they set out for their family vacation that their world would forever be changed?

The stories we tell matter, but so do the ones that never make headlines.

The stories of the loved, the forgotten, and of the heroic. Maybe that’s why we flock to those heart-warming stories that get hundreds of thousands of shares and comments on Facebook.

Like those who see and read our stories, we too need to be reminded that the world is good and strangers care. In a world of chaos, a two-minute story of how the underdog overcomes cancer, drug addiction, or PTSD may be just what someone needs to end their day better than it began.

The scanner is my daily reminder that life is short, someone is always facing a greater battle, and we should all strive to remind one another of our value. We’re here for such a short amount of time, so don’t forget to tell the good news stories.

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7 Comments

  1. “It leaves me wondering, as I sit at my desk with a lukewarm cup of almost acceptable coffee, how do they go on? How do these victims—the sick and suffering, the fearful, the desperate—overcome this moment?”

    So… you’re not making your best calls?

  2. The stories we tell matter, but so do the ones that never make headlines.

    Or it can be the total opposite. There is a reporter in Tijuana who was a legend because every night he would sleep in his car outside the Red Cross with the scanner on, waiting for anything, mainly shootings or accidents, but also any arrest that he could put on TV the next morning, and on a slow news day producers can put anything on tv, a kid busted for weed? You’d see him on TV, Homless arrested for loitering? Also TV worthy, and noone, nobody at all would stop to think about the real life implications of that kind of journalism, the cops loved him because he would put their job on TV, which they never thought of as wrong, the producers loved him because he would fill airtime, and the scanner would be this umbilical cord that would feed lazy newsrooms straight from the belly of the police HQ.

    Scanner culture is a cancer on newsrooms.

  3. I get why some of your examples are bad, but why do you think scanner culture is a cancer on newsrooms? Without the scanner we’d miss a lot, and only cover what the police tell us in their press releases.

  4. I think without the scanner we’d only miss the police’s version of events but in real time, I understad that the scanner is just a tool and the journalist can choose how to use it, in that sense there are better tools that allow us to get to the bottom of the truth, like information access laws (for example FOIA in the US)

    In the end the bigger problem is what I like to call lazy journalism, a way to do journalism in which you only get soundbites and print/brodcast those soundbites unchallenged as if they were truths. I think this is the real problem and has more to do with things like work quotas, the power of advertisers and corporate sources; but scanner culture is a facilitator of this, it might not be the cancer, but it sure helps it grow.

  5. There are other elements to consider. Our area went to encrypted digital police (thank God fire hasn’t gone that way yet – and they’ve run into MAJOR tech woes with the switch, perhaps a bit of karma) – so people on Facebook etc. ask, even beg us to know what happened in the wreck they passed over the pass etc. – and the overwhelmed OSP etc. often don’t have that info for hours, even days. It’s like I just said somewhere else, folks sneer at ambulance-chasing media – but boy, they sure want to know where that smoke column is coming from, why the traffic made them late for work or why they heard sirens in their area or saw cops racing down their street. And they ‘don’t want to bother’ dispatchers at the 911 non-emergency number – so they ask US, on Facebook etc. And are grateful for whatever info we can provide. Sure, that used to happen by phone, but many people who would NEVER bother a newsroom by phone are fine popping us a FB note. And when we find out, they are grateful for the info – whether it’s something that becomes a news story or not. It’s an interesting new role in the world of social media. But I digress (always;-)

  6. Everyday I always here the reports of the heroin overdoses on the scanner. Unfortunately, I’m getting used to it.

  7. Our scanner has really helped us out sometimes, alerting us to major shootings in the area/giving some guidance on where we ought to send folks. Far too often, we mentally tune it out.

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