Derek Donovan

Reporting on bomb threats

Updated: 2013-12-05T00:04:23Z

By Derek Donovan

The Kansas City Star

As of this writing, Kansas City’s City Hall has been evacuated and surrounding streets have been blocked off. A police robot has inspected an object near the fountain, and police officers are searching with dogs throughout the building.

All this is because a man called yesterday afternoon claiming a bomb has been planted in City Hall, and it would go off this morning.

Should journalists report on bomb threats? They’re actually fairly common at schools and workplaces, yet The Star generally doesn’t write about them. Obviously, they are practically never legitimate, and in these post-Columbine days, I’m sure even an undetonated explosive in a school would become national news.

This question has been debated for a long time, and there’s been research suggesting that reporting on threats may increase their frequency. I’m not sure the jury’s back on that one, but I would agree that the threats aren’t news in and of themselves, as they usually end up causing fairly minor inconveniences.

But should a newsroom have a iron-clad policy not to report on them at all? I think today’s City Hall example would be a difficult one to argue against reporting on at all. It’s a fairly major disruption for many people, and it of course affects one of the highest-profile buildings in town. And if authorities do turn up an undtonated explosive, that takes it to another level entirely. Time will determine where this one goes through the day.

To reach Derek Donovan, call 816-234-4487 weekday mornings or send email to publiceditor@kcstar.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/KCStarPublic.

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