Letter to the Editor: Rush to deliver breaking news to public is the task of BNN

I am the reporter with Breaking News Network (BNN) that broke the Gov. Jon Corzine accident in Galloway Township. I came across the letter to the editor of The Rider News from Dr. Thomas Simonet (“Reports broadcast on pager service sometimes misinform,” 4/27/07). I wanted to respond to that letter and some of the points made, because if Dr. Simonet knew more about BNN maybe he would be less critical of our coverage.

I was happy to read his praise of my report: “Sometimes BNN is dead-on accurate, as when Gov. Corzine was injured.” I have been reporting for BNN off and on for the past 10 years. I have broken many major news stories. Other recent ones are the double fatal N.J. State Police accident in Upper Township, and the two Egg Harbor Township police officers that were shot in the line of duty.

I spend on average 100 hours a week gathering news to send over our wire service, and I am not financially compensated. None of the reporters at BNN are paid with the exception of our 24/7 news desk. All the BNN reporters are current or former public service professionals such as EMT’s, firefighters, 9-1-1 dispatchers and even law enforcement officers, who in their own way, have a love for journalism are self proclaimed “news junkies.”

We do not allow just anyone who joins BNN to send reports. New reporters are given a probationary period that can last as long as a year. They are able to “tip” a report that then must be verified by a senior reporter or our news desk. We generally do not accept “scanner enthusiasts” as reporters because it is very time-consuming to train them on emergency service terminology and procedures.

As the letter noted, the media heavily counts on BNN for their broadcast, and we take that responsibility very seriously. The truth is BNN provides what none of the news agencies that subscribe to us could provide on their own. We all volunteer our time to do it, and the expense of maintaining our equipment.

At the end of the day BNN has never turned a profit. Reporters are given awards all the time, but the reporters at BNN that work so hard are never recognized publicly. However, day after day we staff our news wire and cover the hard news of New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania., Washington, D.C., Maryland, Connecticut and Delaware. In my opinion if BNN ever stopped reporting, the various news agencies that use us, including the Associated Press, would be starved of what keeps them running every day.

In his letter, Dr. Simonet brings up an incident where BNN made a mistake. He is probably right that the reporter who sent that report made an assumption that proved to be dead wrong. He also brings up how “Rider goes out instantly to outlets like N.J. 101.5, CNN and Fox News. They, without verification, repeat the pager report instantly to their audiences.” BNN everyday sends a disclaimer out that “BNN is not for rebroadcast.” However, this goes ignored.

One of the procedures we use at BNN is never to send a report on “dispatch.” We wait for a unit on scene to report back to dispatch “we have a working fire.” Sometimes if 9-1-1 is dispatching a major incident and they have a lot of details, we will send a report but word it that “EMS responding for a reported school bus MVA with rollover.” Then we can update the report when units arrive on scene. (This requires someone paying attention to detail on the other end.)

The reporters at BNN use radios and scanners for their reports. If wrong information is given over the radio, it also will make it in our report. BNN does its best to verify information from more than one source, such as comparing the fire and EMS reports to the police report.

Assignment desks need quick info to make the decision to launch news helicopters and reporters to the scene just in time to get the story. Unfortunately, from time to time embarrassing mistakes like what happened at Rider will continue to happen if news agencies do not verify information before they report to their audience.

— Harry B. Scheeler Jr.
Breaking News Network Reporter

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