Remember- rumor loves a vacuum

"Was there really a threat?A few islanders, and those of us at this newspaper, will certainly reflect on that question after regional media showed up this week to pounce on the supposed threat of gun violence in a Bainbridge school.Television coverage apparently will follow a banner headline in a Bremerton newspaper Tuesday, proclaiming the expulsion of a Sakai Intermediate School student for taking handgun and shotgun shells to school.For obvious reasons, school district officials hate this sort of thing, and they are irate over a treatment they seem to feel unreasonably implied that random gun violence has descended upon island schools."

  • Friday, April 14, 2000 8:00am
  • News

“Was there really a threat?A few islanders, and those of us at this newspaper, will certainly reflect on that question after regional media showed up this week to pounce on the supposed threat of gun violence in a Bainbridge school.Television coverage apparently will follow a banner headline in a Bremerton newspaper Tuesday, proclaiming the expulsion of a Sakai Intermediate School student for taking handgun and shotgun shells to school.For obvious reasons, school district officials hate this sort of thing, and they are irate over a treatment they seem to feel unreasonably implied that random gun violence has descended upon island schools.Having reviewed what we know of the incident, we share their concerns – at least up to a point. We’ve seen time and again – and commented negatively upon the phenomenon – the propensity for competing news agencies outside this area to overplay the drama of Bainbridge Island events. Viewed from elsewhere, it seems, the happenings on our little island are either completely beneath notice, or worthy of 80-point type.The quintessential example would be the notorious Ipecac incident of a few years back. At that time, a Bainbridge Island cheerleader was slipped a mickey of vomit-inducing medication during a party. In trotted the Seattle press corps and a high-profile investigative reporter, with subsequent headlines blaring Cheerleader poisoning plot or some such Enquirer-esque idiocy. Never mind that students involved in the incident and their parents – and Bainbridge Police, who also investigated the matter – concluded that the incident was not much more than a prank.But should we have played up the ammunition incident in this newspaper, because others in the business saw fit to? We learned of the incident ourselves last week through a concerned parent, and were in the process of making our own inquiries. We’re still not sure we made the right call in holding off on the story.But the response does underscore a point that bears repeating for school district officials: Parents want to know what’s going on. And in an information vacuum, disinformation thrives. People fill in the blanks with their own imagination.Any media relations specialist – and we can suggest a few we know, who will be happy to repeat this advice for a small fee – will tell you: When something out-of-the-ordinary happens, get a news release out to parents. You may be giving an incident more play than it deserves, but at least you get your spin on it. And while you might not assuage the fears of every parent on the block, at least people have some presumably factual information from which to judge a situation and the district’s response to it.Our news judgment will always be tested in these incidents. This time, having spoken with school officials and Bainbridge Police, we’re reasonably confident that there existed no real threat or intent to harm other students.But no one in the school district should be surprised if, in an unfortunate climate of random shootings, some assume otherwise and accentuate the worst.”

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