Board members turn citizen journalists

Baptists returning from a board meeting learn firsthand how social media have changed the way news is covered.

By Bob Allen

Former Cooperative Baptist Fellowship moderator Harriet Harral turned citizen journalist when her return flight from an Associated Baptist Press board meeting turned into a bomb scare that made national headlines Oct. 1.

Harral, CBF moderator in 2007-2008, and her husband, Paul, had just placed their belongings on the X-ray conveyer belt in a security line at Jacksonville International Airport when airport police detained a man nearby who reportedly told TSA officers he was carrying a bomb.

jax harrietOfficials immediately ordered evacuation, shutting down the airport for five hours. On her way out of the terminal, Harral snapped a photo of police detaining a suspect lying on the ground beside a blue duffel bag. The photo soon appeared on the Florida Times-Union website and then across the country in numerous media scrambling to cover the breaking story.

“When they herded us out of the terminal, we went across the street to the parking garage and on the walkway from the street to the garage, we saw two officers with a man on the ground,” Harrell said today in an e-mail from Texas. “He was not struggling. We didn't see them apprehend him.”

“I took the photo then and posted it on Facebook,” she said. “Paul sent it to the Times-Union. Later I got a call from the New York Times because they had seen it on Facebook and were trying to find an eyewitness, so I am quoted in their story this morning.”

jax mwThe Harrals were among a half-dozen board members and spouses delayed by the adventure while returning from an ABP board meeting in Jacksonville, Fla. Another was Mark Wingfield, who was a veteran Baptist journalist before becoming associate pastor at Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas.

“Like Paul and Harriet, my reporting instincts kicked in and I became an on-the-scene reporter for a local news radio station,” Wingfield posted on Facebook. “[I was] interviewed on local TV news this morning. I now understand the value of Twitter.”

Police arrested Jacksonville resident Zeljko Causevic, 39, on charges of making a false bomb report and manufacturing/possessing a hoax bomb. Also arrested was 35-year-old Manuel Rivera of Rockville, Ill., on a charge of resisting an officer without violence.

Officials said Rivera was not involved in the bomb threat but apparently tried to blend in with other passengers after displaying suspicious behavior. When Rivera “became defensive and pulled away,” an airport officer had to physically restrain him, according to a Florida Times-Union story citing the arrest report.