NEW HAVEN, Conn. -- By the time Christine Jun and Tiffany Ho got back from the Harvard-Yale football game on Saturday, they were ready to collapse.
The two Yale seniors had woken up early to enjoy their last tailgate parties as college students. As they stood in line to get into the Yale Bowl's parking area, they suddenly saw a U-Haul truck driven by a friend, Brendan Ross, speed uncontrollably into three women about 10 feet ahead of them, killing one.
Then they watched in a daze as their friends drank and listened to pop music -- in some cases in view of the scene of the deadly crash -- before entering the stadium to see the Crimson best the Bulldogs by 38 points. When they got back to campus, they went online to read news reports of the day. Amid all the varying accounts, one terse entry on the New Haven Register's Twitter page stood out:
When Ho saw that, she sprang to action, using Twitter and Facebook and blasting emails out to alert her friends to what she called in an interview the Register's "really poor journalism." The tweet, which was echoed in the online article's headline, essentially summarized a description one eyewitness gave to a police officer, who relayed it to a reporter.
For her part, Jun knew Ross had only been drinking apple juice that morning and that he had been chosen to drive the truck because he was among the most responsible members of the fraternity sponsoring the tailgate. She said she was "livid" to see the Register devote more than half its story to the problems alcohol had posed at tailgates in the past, and most of all to see the Register include this line in its article:
Police said the investigation, in its early stages, has yielded many conflicting accounts from witnesses, including that it appeared the truck suddenly lurched forward to the driver pressing the pedal in road rage because the women weren't moving fast enough.
Amanda Pinto, the Register reporter with the top byline on the story, told The Huffington Post that the paper's cops reporter, William Kaempffer, had put those details into the article. He could not be reached for comment and the paper's city editor declined to comment. But regardless, the text changed quickly after Ho and Jun began their campaign. That section of the story was modified twice, first to read:
Yale police are assisting New Haven police with the investigation; police told a reporter that some witnesses said it appeared the truck suddenly lurched forward, while others speculated the driver may have stepped on the gas in a case of road rage because the women weren’t moving fast enough.
And later even more context was added:
In the initial hours after the incident, police received a wide range of witness accounts about what transpired. Police knew this much for certain: The U-Haul pulled into the lot, suddenly accelerated and struck the three women. But police were sorting out sometimes contradictory witness accounts, from some witnesses who assumed the driver of the truck inadvertently accelerated, to at least one who thought the situation could have been sparked by "road rage." So far, police are leaning toward the former. A police source said the U-Haul was pulling into the parking lot to prepare for a tailgate when the driver "maybe accidentally" hit the gas and accelerated quickly into a crowd of people.
In Monday's print edition of the Register, the top headline was "Bowl victim 'wonderful daughter,' mother says." And even as much of what happened Saturday remains unclear -- while Ross' lawyer said the truck had malfunctioned, Pete Sciortino, the head of U-Haul's Connecticut branch, said in a statement to HuffPost that there's no "factual basis for such a claim" -- almost all the news coverage related to the incident, including on the Register's front page, now notes that Ross passed a field sobriety test.
No other media outlets quoted eyewitnesses saying road rage might have been a factor, and the Register's website was dominated Monday afternoon by a story headlined "Fatality leaves Yale fraternity members in New Haven 'shaken up.'"
"We're in a very new and unusual zone for journalists," said Sree Sreenivasan, a professor of digital journalism at Columbia Journalism School."There was a time when you wrote your story and you didn't hear feedback for at least a day, if not much, much longer."
Now you hear about it just as soon as the first draft is done.