Behind the scenes of NORAD’s aircraft escorts
We saw it as you posted it Friday evening. Pictures of fighter jets over the Hanover area. We read your posts about the booming sounds, and the low-flying planes. And those tiny Cessnas that appeared to be escorted on by.
That’s what’s great about social media. We didn’t have to be there, too. You were our witnesses. But the bad side rears its head sometimes, and last night was one of those frustrating times. Once the first few Facebook posts and Tweets appeared, I immediately had reporter Teresa Boeckel call the FAA and the White House. Then we had to sit back and wait as social media blew up around us.
It really is one of the most frustrating things to come out of social media. We’re on your side and we believe what readers see. But without officials commenting, all we can do is keep digging and acknowledge what you’re seeing. For some, the line between bloggers and social media posts has become blurred. But we have to sit on our hands until someone official responds. And yesterday evening, York County 911 told us that it was a routine training that brought that jet and a Cessna through the area. So we posted what we knew and let you all know.
But just like you, we thought it was fishy. There’s President Barack Obama at Camp David in Md. And a temporary no-fly zone that comes well into York County. So we kept calling, and no one responded. And online, several people accused us of spinning the story and not telling the truth. But what can we do?
Ironically, I had just posted a comment on the growing Facebook thread telling people that while we are reading what they’re saying, we had made calls and had nothing new to report than routine training. Then minutes later, at about 11:45 p.m. A reader directed us to a Facebook post from NORAD. (Who knew NORAD was on FB? Not me.) And confirmed what many readers were saying. NORAD escorted two planes, about 10 minutes apart, from the no-fly zone. One landed at York Airport, the other in a grassy area somewhere in the state. Law enforcement was investigating and that was about it.
With minutes until the press started for the York Daily Record and The Evening Sun, Teresa immediately got NORAD on the phone as I posted what I had on FB and Twitter. I called Evening Sun night/weekend editor Tim Stonesifer who was already home for the night, but still monitoring to the situation, asked if he wanted to get what we knew in print. We cobbled together brief reports and put them on each paper’s front page. And if I’m right, had only minutes to spare.
The kicker was that the NORAD spokeswoman told us that local officials likely told us the wrong thing to delay until NORAD released a statement. While I ranted a little bit in the office about it later, we couldn’t have done anything differently. It’s a fast-paced world and everyone’s constantly connected. We are fielding reports and questions and reaching out to readers in ways like never before. But when it comes down to it, our gut feelings, like yours (which may turn out to be correct), aren’t enough for us to rush to print, or the web.
We want to be digital first, always. But we want to be right. Because it’s our processes and dedication to accuracy and ethics that make me believe journalism will never go away.
I’m sure it won’t be the end of the story. Because we want to know (as I’m sure you do) if local officials were asked to stretch the truth, or deflect our questions ahead of time. Or if they chose to do so on their own. Or was it all a misunderstanding? We’ll let you know when we do. Because that’s our promise — when we know it, you know it.