They used to be called press releases.
They would come in pretty dry language and include the facts, a couple of carefully crafted quotes, and contact details for follow-up questions. Journalists would take them, read them with a healthy dose of skepticism (hopefully), and then do their own reporting before writing a story.
But NYPD’s flacks just skipped a whole bunch of steps with their latest initiative — news “stories” written by the department itself and posted directly on social media, missing out any actual journalists or a reporting process.
To an untrained reader, the police’s self-journalism might seem just like any other story, as the article below, posted to the NYPD Facebook account on Wednesday, shows.
It's a bit like someone referring to himself in the third person — obnoxious.
“A rookie Bronx cop on a footpost this morning chased down and arrested a gun-toting 17-year-old who, moments earlier, fired four shots into another man and left him for dead on a Mount Eden street,” reads the post, presumably written by a police employee from an officer's account of the incident. “Police Officer Kelvyn Vargas, 31, heard the shots ring out and turned to investigate. Vargas saw Johnson — still pointing the gun at the collapsing victim — take off running in the other direction and gave chase.”
“Vargas, hired by the NYPD less than a year ago and assigned to the Bronx in January, shouted 'Police, don’t move' at the fleeing suspect but Johnson continued to run along the street and turn onto Selwyn Avenue, police said,” the department wrote about itself. “Vargas turned the corner and saw Johnson dive into a large trash container, where the cop took him into custody without further incident. Vargas also recovered the loaded .22 cal High Standard Sentinel revolver.”
That’s a bit like someone referring to themselves in the third person — obnoxious at least, and pretty questionable.
Of course, press releases always only told one side of the story, but masking them as neutral news articles is problematic — especially when the other people involved get no say, and when the department in question has a long history of spinning its narratives and absolving itself.
Even more worrying, as Gothamist pointed out, is that this news was not even shared with actual reporters at all.
“The media did not receive a release concerning the story about the rookie cop,” the New York City website commented. “In fact, ‘rookie’ is the kind of colorful word you will not find in an NYPD release. Neither is ‘gun-toting,’ or the phrase ‘left him for dead.’"
Whether the department is just trying to sound young and hip, or actually mask the fact that it is disseminating its own version of events as fact, is up for debate. They did not immediately respond to VICE News’ requests for comment on that anyway, perhaps this is also part of their media strategy.
The NYPD has been trying to revamp its image and get cool with the youngsters for a while now — by embracing slang and social media.
Its Facebook page is filled with an impressive collection of fan posts and they recently launched a “tweet along” initiative, which lets people follow cops as they live tweet their shift, Gothamist reported. But, as the #myNYPD Twitter disaster proved, that has not always worked out as well as it probably hoped.
Follow Alice Speri on Twitter: @alicesperi
Photo via Flickr