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Web video of Erikson’s confession illustrates community journalism

Saturday, May 5, 2007 | 1:00 a.m. CDT; updated 3:51 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008
Tom Warhover is the Columbia Missourian's executive editor for innovation.

Bill Ferguson isn’t giving up, it seems. He’s convinced his son Ryan didn’t murder Tribune sports editor Kent Heitholt in 2001, despite the verdict to the contrary by 12 presumably honest men and women.

The elder Ferguson is using the tools of the digital age to take his battle to the Court of Public Opinion. He has a Web site, freeryanferguson.com. It includes a blog, which in this case seems to be a running comment board from friends and site visitors. Ferguson has even jumped on the YouTube.com bandwagon, as the Missourian reported on Thursday, by displaying portions of detectives’ interviews with the man who pointed the finger at Ryan Ferguson, Chuck Erickson. (Actually, there’s more on YouTube. Do a search and you’ll find a video with music and still photographs making Ryan’s case.)

I went to YouTube.com to take a look. The clip’s title: “Have you ever had a cop in your face?” The video contains written commentary with artfully edited clips of the detectives’ interrogations of Erickson. An assertion is made, followed by interview video, followed by another point, and so on — each point circling the main assertion that police put words in Erickson’s mouth to get a confession. The message is persuasive, but not just opinion. Instead, it adds factual information (the taped confession).

It’s interesting that Bill Ferguson is bypassing the local media to send his message out.

I’m sure the Columbia police hate it.

The Missourian was obliged to report it — all the elements for news are there. But it also could give background information in a different way.

As I write this Thursday afternoon, staff members are trying to put up on ColumbiaMissourian.com the unedited tape with Erickson’s confession. Now, many of you won’t want to wade through the whole thing. In fact, as George Kennedy says in his column on Sunday, journalists do the sifting so that you don’t have to waste your time.

In this case, it’s a father, not a journalist, doing the sifting. So some of you may want to compare the original to say, “Let me see and decide for myself.” As I mentioned before, more and more, the newspaper can publish original documents, videotape — whatever — to give you more background.

Consider it the journalistic equivalent of footnotes.


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