Good news, citizens. The police are here to tell you who the real journalists are.
Sheboygan's Police Chief, Chris Domagalski, corrects errors in a story circulating on social media this week, accusing his department of withholding information from the community. The story involved the arrest of a Sheboygan man facing several felony drug charges, resisting arrest, and biting an officer at Erie and North 14th Street.
Domagalski, armed with facts, and the law, spoke out about the accusations, encouraging the community to be very careful about where they get their news - saying "Because you have a website and a facebook page, does not make you a journalist. When you engage in repeated unethical conduct, your character is revealed, and people should weigh that in their decision about whether they rely on you for news."
This is true… partly. A website and a Facebook page does not automatically make someone a journalist. But having only a website and a Facebook page does not disqualify someone from being a journalist. There are plenty of journalists out there who've never written anything on a printed page. There are plenty of people committing journalism without ever intending to, and a lot of that revolves around requesting public records.
The journalist, who Chief Domagalski says isn't one, wrote an article about this arrest, suggesting the refusal to turn over recordings of the arrest was a sign of more widespread misconduct within the force.
There's not enough information out there to state definitively which side of the story is more credible. It must be noted there's no love shown for the unnamed "non-journalist" in this article's comment thread, suggesting someone who has aimed for muckraker but settled for constant annoyance.
Unfortunately, the writer for WHBL Radio seems inclined to consider only those who show tons of deference to police officials to be real journalists. Those that question the actions and motives of government entities are nothing more than non-journalist interlopers.
Some of that sentiment can be picked up in the first sentence of the second quoted paragraph:
Domagalski, armed with facts, and the law…
That's some credible stenography right there. Then again, someone without even a Facebook page or a website could have transcribed Domagalski's statement without pausing to infer the chief was wholly in the right.
There's more, though.
The Sheboygan Police Department has a number of different ways to communicate factual, verified information to the public, including services like Nixle, which will push information out as text messages or email, AND a service powered by LexisNexis, which provides real-time mapping of police calls within the city.
They also maintain a social media presence on facebook and twitter, and communicate regularly with credible journalists in Sheboygan, who can accurately communicate important information about the community with the public.
Apparently, people employed by WHBL will also be determining who is or isn't a "credible journalist." Defined in these surrounding terms, it will be those who publish whatever the PD provides, even if it appears to contradict what has been captured on video or gleaned from public records.
I prefer my journalists to show distance, rather than deference, when covering controversial incidents involving public servants. And I don't give a damn if the journalists I read have nothing more than a Wordpress blog and a Muckrock account. What I find less than credible is coverage of police press conferences that read like low-key fan fiction -- especially ones that idolize authority figures while trotting out self-congratulatory prose. The police chief is implying he prefers deference in his journalists, and WHBL is only too happy to comply.