At about 4:30pm on Friday afternoon, I got a call from Lois Stanley, a commuter saying she had been waiting for a bus for over 40minutes at the Corporation street in the city centre.
(In fact, a few minutes before this was a tweet from Paul Bradshaw, also waiting at a bus stop, and I thought it was another case of our #phantombuses)
— Paul Bradshaw (@paulbradshaw) August 2, 2013
Back to the first call:
Lois travels to city centre from Perry Barr every day for work. She has been participating in #phantombuses – a crowd sourced data gathering experiment on buses that we started two weeks back.
So Lois told me there was an air ambulance landing on Steelhouse Lane near the Birmingham Children’s hospital. This led to her standing and staring at the Real Time Information Screen at a bus stop on the Priory queensway. She later walked two bus stops away and reached Corporation Street and saw the ambulance.
To tweet or not to tweet (without more details)?
I was very tempted to tweet her comments and photos ASAP. But about six years of journalism training told me to cross check it first and find out if it was one angry commuter or were there many like her at the city centre and elsewhere to understand the scale of the traffic disruption.
What would be my sources of verifying the story?
1. My first instinct was to call the Birmingham City Council traffic control room.
So I called the Press office and reached the answering machine as it was already past 5pm by then. Here I was given an emergency Press contacts number.
However there was no response at the number. I did get a call later and was dismissed as a student/blogger and was asked to:
“appreciate the fact that it’s a Friday afternoon”
2. Then I called the West Midlands Police Press office.
“We don’t have traffic updates“
So I went back to the non-emergency number, where they looked into their traffic logs. The officer, while looking for it the details, apologised and said,
“We have hundreds of traffic logs in a day, it may take me a while to locate the one you’re asking for”
3. Finally I called the West Midlands Ambulance Service Press office. The phone lines here were not working.
So I ended up calling the West Midlands Ambulance Service (WMAS) regular number, very conscious and guilty of the fact that I’m eating into their time when they need to attend to patients’ calls.
As expected, they did not have any information about this air ambulance landing in the middle of the city, at the Birmingham Children’s Hospital. The WMAS website said they’re located at Millennium Point.
All this left me wondering who’s in charge of talking to the Press on a Friday afternoon, if anything major happens on the city roads? Was calling the wrong people? What numbers do other journalists call to get such information?
Having worked as a transport correspondent and being on the night shift as a crime reporter, for over two years, the traffic control room, the highway control room and the expressway control room would be the first port of call. But yesterday I had no clue where I went wrong!
I was finally put out of my misery when I saw a tweet from National Express.
Birmingham City Centre heavily congested due to Air Ambulance landing #gridlock
— NX West Midlands (@nxwestmidlands) August 2, 2013
After this, I started tweeting the pictures sent by Lois Stanley, being assured that I was not blowing things out of proportion.