All-volunteer breaking news site gains bigger following after Perry Hall High School shooting
Students are evacuated after a student was shot on the first day of school at Perry Hall High School. (Algerina Perna, Baltimore Sun / August 27, 2012)
In the mad dash to confirm critical information by the major news outlets in the Baltimore area, a team of volunteers were also doing their best to cull through a rush of postings on Facebook. Thousands of people turned to a Facebook page, staffed by volunteers to get the latest on the student shooting at Perry Hall High School: The Baltimore County Breaking News page.
This morning, the page started the day -- the first day of school in the county -- with around 8,300 "likes", or followers, of its selection of news updates of shootings, accidents, fires and other public safety-related information.
As the news of the shooting spread, more people scoured the Internet for information and found BCBN's page, pushing it to nearly 10,000 followers by 4 p.m -- a surge of about 20 percent in one day.
For comparison's sake, The Baltimore Sun has 20,300 followers of its main Facebook page.
The page was started by Patrick and Lauren Klinedinst, a husband-and-wife team. Kenneth Sigal is one of the volunteer operators of the page, which has six others contributing to it. He said the group takes contributions and tips from the public and has sources within the county's public safety agencies (police, fire) who can confirm information. They only post confirmed information, he said.
Sigal is a volunteer firefighter in the county, and he and the other volunteers have police and fire scanners, which allow them to track breaking incidents in real time. He said the volunteers will take down "offensive or racist" comments from the page, or anything that demeans or provokes an argument.
For instance, someone today posted a comment in relation to the shooting: "A kid was shot. So what. It happens." And Sigal said his news team deleted it.
"That's something that would've caused an uproar if left there," Sigal said. "We feltwe don't mind people having discussions but we don't want it to turn into an argument."
Several Facebook updates about the Perry High incident, where one student was seriously injured, garned more than 330 comments.
Sigal said the volunteers are working on building out a full website for breaking news, plus mobile apps for iPhone and Android smartphones.
The group has a Twitter account, too -- https://twitter.com/bcobreakingnews -- which is synchronized with the updates from their Facebook page, but they haven't benefitted from the crush of followers there. As of nearly 5 p.m. today, they had only 216 followers.