Thursday, March 03, 2005

Search for Missing Persons Illustrates Web's Growing Impact ...

The fact that the growth of the web and - every bit as important - web access is having a dramatic effect on many facets of our life is hardly news. Yet, still, every few days, I an confronted with another compelling illustration of how that is becoming more true, in more ways, for more of us.

Over the last two weeks, it's been the search for missing persons that offers me another illustration of the web's reach, and its impact.

There was the case late last month of Fort Worth-area woman and her 7-year-old son who were missing. I first learned of it when an Amber Alert, issued by the National Weather Service through its emergency broadcast system that temporarily interrupted cable television programming.

Editing, a news website for West Texas and southeast New Mexico, I went to work. My first stop was a local page for the National Weather Service, where I picked up the complete text of the Amber Alert for the boy and his mom.

Over the next couple of hours, searches on the internet produced a photo of the two - albeit an old one - posted by a Fort Worth-area newspaper. Websites devoted to missing persons (
Team Amber Alert, for example), provided added details to descriptions of the two. Then a Beaumont-area television station posted a more current photo of the two.

Very few of the sites I visited remain static for very long ... Added details, updated information, clarifications, newer photos all made sure that coverage of developing news was, itself, developing throughout the evening, and the day that followed.

The day after that, the story reached its tragic conclusion, and our coverage included photos and video of the woman's missing truck, found in a pond in the area ... then the news that the remains of both mother and child had been found. Not long after that, we posted our first photos of the suspect being held in connection with their death.

Of course, work such as this was going on in all media outlets ... but I believe the internet offered some advantages over the others. A newspaper, for example, may reach into more homes in the community, and may do so with a very thorough report, with plenty of supplemental pieces and sidebars ... but it won't be on your doorstep until tomorrow morning.

And now, it begins again. This time, our attention turns to West Texas, where the search is on for Andrews businesswoman Bonnie Duncan. Police are searching the streets of Andrews, while county sheriff's deputies comb the county roads and a DPS helicopter flies over the surrounding countryside.

But the internet is also a part of that search, carrying a detailed description of the woman, and sharing whatever is known about where and when she was last heard from. You can also download a
full-color flyer, to help with the search efforts.

Another West Texas effort, the year-long search for missing Balmorhea teen Monica Carrasco,
has also turned to the internet to help get the word out to even more people, faster.

And the people talk back. This is another important aspect of web coverage on stories like this ... the opportunity for instant feedback from readers anywhere and anywhen. It's not unlike a virtual water cooler where everybody can gather and discuss the day's news.

"Bonnie was like my own aunt. What has happened to her is a horrible thing. I just want to say that my prayers are with her family. I pray to God that she will be brought home back to her family safely," one reader wrote to me earlier today about the search for Bonnie Duncan.

That comment, and others, are posted to the tail of the stories that appear on our website. And they become more than just comments. They become a part of the story, and a part of the way that we - news producers and news users, alike - relate to what is going on around us.

There's new site on the web, related to part of my post. It's called, "Bring Bonnie Back"



Pancho said...

Thanks to Eric for "outing" you! Good to see you up and running.

Pancho said...

Thanks to Eric for "outing" you! Good to see you up and running.

Pancho said...

Sorry for the double entendre above. Got a Error 404 when sent, didn't realize it had gone thru.

Jeff said...

Thank you. Have always enjoyed reading "Fireant Gazette" and "Streams" ... now I'll give writing one of my own a try.

Thanks for the link on "Streams," by the way. I am happy to reciprocate.