Clickbait, Clarity, and Timing

My real-life journalism lesson

In the middle of my second period my phone started blowing up- I was getting messages from all of my friends- this one screenshot in particular of the abc11 headline “Sex room uncovered at Riverside High School after live video streamed on Instagram”. Teachers were sent an email when the story broke and from then on that was the talk of the school.

Then, at the beginning of third period newspaper class, I went out to Rose of Sharon Road to figure some things out myself. Fabian, Javier and I took a camera and a notebook and approached the news vans and journalists who were stopping students on their way to lunch for interviews.

I found Tim Pulliam, the ABC 11 journalist who broke the story, and asked him a few questions of my own about how he came about the story that involved riverside students using an alleged ”sex room”:


MF (me): How did this start?

TP (Tim Pulliam): I am the first reporter to break this story. My daily routine is to go into the courthouse to check for search warrants and arrest warrants to see if there is anything interesting happening as far as crime in the county.

I came across a search warrant that listed the two students. In the warrant it stated that the child came to an SRO to complain about the incident she was involved in – the video taping of a sex act against her will – all a part of the search warrant narrative. I started tweeting about the details I learned about, without identifying the students.

When I found out the story I let my manager know I was going to be tweeting about it, so people could find out about it.

MF: So it’s going to be a bigger story?

TP: A little bit, yes. I reached out to the sheriff department and DPS for a comment.

MF: Can you elaborate in how the headline changed?

TP: From what I understand the headline was talking about the sex room, but there was an internal discussion in our department/newsroom that said ‘hey, we don’t necessarily need to call this a sex room. We need to be clear that this is a story about a girl coming forward saying that her personal private moment with another human being was shared on social media. So the headline should shift more so towards that story not the fact that there’s an alleged “sex room.”

The conversation with Pulliam gave us better insight on how the story broke, and this made me realize how hurried the news process can be. By the time the 6:00 news was out there was a sense of confusion from the original headline. More time should’ve been taken to make the story as accurate as possible before sharing it with the public.

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