When you “spin” a news story, you tweak it to have a subjective point of view—to have a muted and often undetectable bias. Mainstream media does it all the time, despite high-quality journalism supposedly being objective and unbiased. But now cops are getting in on the action. At a recent conference in Richmond, police agencies from around the country sent representatives to learn how best to use media to their advantage.
The event was hosted by the Richmond Police Department and was a three-day conference. According to the Times-Dispatch, the cops were there to learn the “tricks” of the trade and “how to put their own spin on the news they create.” (Notice, they aren’t there to learn how to relay facts or report the news, but to create and manipulate the news.)
Much of the time spent was focused on using social media to create a modern relationship with the community. Officers learned about how they could use Facebook, Twitter, and other social media to build an online presence. Richmond Police Chief Bryan T. Norwood described social media as a way “we try to tell our own story,” calling it, “a real positive way to interact.”
Interestingly, several of the sessions at the conference were closed to the public and local media. Those presentations included: “Multi-Agency Knowledge Sharing Through Social Media,” “The Dark Side of Facebook: Online Radicalization and Security Implications for Law Enforcement” and “The Social Tightrope Between Building Community Participation and Being Big Brother.” (Ironic they wanted to learn about “Being Big Brother” without the prying eyes of the people).
A common problem, attendees said, is feeling like they have to be on the defensive when news stories hit the press. By creating the news themselves and disseminating it through social media or even their own YouTube channel, agencies hope they can stop some of the “misperceptions” about cases before they hit the regular news channels.
The police would like to see the public come to them for their real-life crime drama, rather than depending on newspapers and local television newscasts. That way, they say excitedly, they can control what you hear and see.
The police are very much in the business of looking good for the cameras, much to the potential detriment of the people they serve.