Local police reporter visits Communications class
Jenna Wise spoke to Professor Michael Lear-Olimpi’s corporate communications (public affairs) class recently about being a police reporter for PennLive. She covers police activities––from vehicle accidents and fire investigations to murders and community policing––primarily in Harrisburg and areas of Susquehanna Township close to the city.
She also reports on police departments throughout six counties in the Harrisburg metropolitan area and beyond.
“It’s exciting work––I really like doing it,” Wise told the class. She added that she will continue reporting for as long as she can.
Reporting on police activity is an important part of public affairs reporting, which informs the public on how its government is working for them.
Impact of COVID
A Shippensburg graduate, Wise began working at PennLive not long before the SARS-CoV-2 virus shut down most social activity and getting outside to talking to people.
“I’ve been working from home, but I have gone out to (crime) and fire scenes” to gather information, Wise said.
How to Find Stories
She mentioned a tool Lear-Olimpi has told his students police reporters––a traditional beginner’s job at a newspaper, and other types of news outlets––use to collect leads on stories: a police scanner.
“I use Broadcastify… and I got a device, a police scanner, with a UBS connection, that I use with my computer,” she said.
Broadcastify allows anyone to listen to police, fire and other emergency broadcasts where they are not indecipherably scrambled. The company’s website says its software provides access to more than 7,000 police and fire audio streams in the United States.
Reporters have long relied on police-scanner radios to alert them to incidents where dispatchers are sending police officers, firefighters and medical personnel. The reporters then know where to go to gather information for news stories to inform the public of what’s happening in the community. Public relations practitioners also often deal with police, and police reporters, for information for clients and to entice reporters to write about police departments the practitioners represent.
Wise said her job can be tough because it involves people who are victims of violence, or people related to or who know them. Although the pandemic has mostly kept her off the streets to gather data for stories, Wise agreed with Lear-Olimpi that following leads while reporting on crime can be dangerous, and reporters must be cautious.
“I’ve been some places to report on crime and fires, but I’m careful––I’m aware,” she said, explaining that she likes to gather witness testimony to round out the stories she writes, such as pieces on memorials in Harrisburg to victims of shootings.
She added that she knows about some areas where she should be cautious from other reporters, particularly reporters who covered the police beat.
Working with Police Departments
As for police cooperation with her as she develops stories, she said many police departments in the region are upfront and helpful. She mentioned the Harrisburg Bureau of Police and the Susquehanna Township Police Department as two from whose public information officers she regularly receives information easily.
Wise’s coursework at Shippensburg was largely the same as the journalism courses that are part of Central Penn’s corporate communications and communications degrees that deal with gathering information, accessing it and writing in journalistic style to inform the public, whether at large or a target public-relations audience.
Before joining PennLive, Wise completed a reporting internship at The Star Ledger/NJ.com in New Jersey.
Wise gave students her business cards and invited them to contact her with questions.
By Michael Lear-Olimpi, Assistant Proferssor