For a few hours Monday morning, one broadcaster was delivering details on a police shooting in St. Petersburg that no other outlet was providing: news that two officers had been killed, along with the identity of the man suspected of shooting them.
That broadcaster wasn't a journalist. It was Tampa shock jock Bubba the Love Sponge Clem, who turned his morning show on WHPT-FM (the Bone 102.5) into a continuous report on the unfolding saga, using information delivered anonymously by law enforcement sources, police scanner broadcasts and fans on the scene to deliver details professional reporters hesitated to divulge.
This seems to be another new wrinkle handed to traditional news reporters in a world where almost anyone can be a media outlet. Professional journalists may have reporting standards, but when an emergency breaks out, are they at a competitive disadvantage if non-journalists get involved?
"We've had plenty of police officers tell us we're not affecting the tactical situation," said Brent Hatley, producer for Clem's show. "The police department PR people will not control the information we release."
Even among traditional news outlets, controversy emerged over when some details should be revealed. The names of the officers killed were initially revealed by local cable news channel Bay News 9 early Monday afternoon, using information provided by the Police Benevolent Association. The St. Petersburg Times' web site tampabay.com reported the names shortly after, also crediting the PBA.
Police had not officially released the names and asked both Bay News 9 and a Times reporter not to publish them until a 4 p.m. news conference. The cable channel, which often touts adherence to its crime coverage guidelines, did not broadcast the names again; anchor Al Ruechel apologized to viewers saying, "(We) should known better than that."
Terry Dolan, general manager at Bay News 9, said a staffer mistakenly assumed the PBA was authorizing release of the information. "The biggest thing is to make sure this doesn't come as a surprise to family or fellow officers," Dolan added.
St. Petersburg Times editor Neil Brown said the newspaper had received only an informal request not to report the names, which had already been published and widely broadcast.
"At no time were we told that there was some compelling reason (for example, the next of kin had not been notified)," said Brown. "If a compelling case had been made to us that publishing the names would be harmful or compromising, we would have considered it seriously, and we have done so at times in the past."
Before 9 a.m., as some traditional news outlets were still sorting through the situation, Clem was reporting two police officers had been killed, revealing no names. Police would not confirm that officers died until 11 a.m.
Clem also first revealed the identity of the suspect, Hydra Lacy Jr., discussing his extensive criminal record and status as brother to professional boxer Jeff Lacy. (After Clem's show ended, Fox station WTVT-Ch. 13 would be the first traditional news outlet to reveal Lacy's name about 10:40 a.m., once police gave "tacit" approval, said news director John Hoffman.)
Disguising the voices of callers he said were police officers, Clem provided details seemingly straight from the scene. And a fan used a cellphone to provide audio from the emergency, broadcasting the sound of a volley of gunshots.