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Pick of the Day: Reporting a snowball fight

Today's Pick Story of the Day is a testament to reporting, about as basic and straightforward a story as can be imagined, yet one that performs the ultimate public service. It's a simple narrative built from classic reporting. The Post's Matt Zapotosky was assigned to figure out just what happened Saturday, when, during the biggest snowstorm ever to hit Washington in a December, people spontaneously gathered at a major intersection to have a friendly snowball fight, only to find some lunatic--in this case, a D.C. police detective--waving a gun at them and threatening to turn the whole wonderful scene into a horror show.

Many readers will have already read sketchy summaries and eyewitness accounts of this incident at 14th and U streets NW on the blogs, or seen various versions of the stunning video on YouTube. But Zapotosky, in clear, unemotional prose, goes out and finds the puzzle pieces and puts them together, so we learn that the snowball fight wasn't quite as spontaneous as it had first appeared, but rather was another little triumph of social media organizing. There are still a few missing pieces--we need to know at some point exactly who this detective is and what his record is and what was in his head as he scared the bejesus out of a big crowd of the people he's supposed to be protecting. But as a first draft of what happened, this is a story that adds value through reporting, and that's what it's all about.

By Marc Fisher  | December 21, 2009; 8:34 AM ET
Categories:  Story Picks  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Pick of the Day: Gary Smith's gift
Next: Build-A-Story: Who's not clearing their sidewalks?


fisher, i thought you went away? why did you ruin my christmas?!?!

Posted by: popopo | December 21, 2009 10:02 AM | Report abuse

WaPo got the story WRONG. It was eventually able to get it right with the help of WCP, blogs, twitter, youtube... so you write a blog post that crows about your own reporting and tries to diminish the contributions of blogs and social media? C'mon.

Posted by: yatesc1 | December 21, 2009 10:47 AM | Report abuse

wapo did in fact get several important details wrong. and i would like to see them follow up on this story and find out whether the "detective" will be reprimanded for making an untense situation tense, and then making a tense situation WORSE.

Posted by: brickerd | December 21, 2009 11:24 AM | Report abuse

Um, yeah this was a horribly reported story that the Washington City Paper kicked the WashPost's ASS on. As for the "unknown" detective's name, while the police wouldn't "officially" name him, he gave his name on camera to the crowd and it's pretty much well-known who he is.

More importantly "fight wasn't quite as spontaneous as it had first appeared" who the hell ever said it was "spontaneous?" It was well known it was organized via Twitter but I'm sure many people joined the crowd not because they heard about it via Twitter.

Crowing about this story ast the "pick of the Day" really? Tone-deaf newsroom. I know more about what happened from every source BUT the WashingtonPost.

Posted by: NewsCat-VA | December 21, 2009 2:28 PM | Report abuse

Zapotsky got the story WRONG, Huffington Post has 15 Videos to show that this snowball fight was a mini RIOT on city streets.

The officer had no choice but to take action on people who were impeding traffic in the roadway, throwing missiles across the Intersection. Assaulting peoples property & even assaulting the officer with thrown objects. One blogger writes his Snow balls had D size batteries in them! So do I fault the officer for un holstering his weapon after being hit twice in the head by what appeared to be snowballs after he IDENTIFIED himself as a Police officer & told people to stop? Heck No. I fault the organizers of theis event. A Ms Lacey Macauley says she and a few of her friends were responsible for organizing the event. She says this on her Twitter page & on her website.
I suugeest the MPD and the DA's office end the promotion of these type of activities. Pronto.

Posted by: digtldesk | December 22, 2009 3:08 PM | Report abuse

It does seem very strange to so highly praise a story that had so many problems. Did the Post not know that there were dozens of pictures on the internet of the cop WITH a gun? If they didn't know it, why not?

Posted by: OneElle | December 23, 2009 10:48 AM | Report abuse


I saw the reference to D batteries too, I just understood it.

When someone writes "“That DC cop is lucky he wasn’t in Jersey. We used to put “D” batteries inside our snowballs.” that DOES NOT mean that the DC snowballs had D-batteries. Also, it was probably a joke. You are spreading incorrect information. Please read more carefully.

Posted by: OneElle | December 23, 2009 10:54 AM | Report abuse

Seems to me like this is a perfect example of what happens when a reporter chooses NOT to "put the pieces together," but instead allows himself to be lied to by police and report their claims as fact despite overhwelming evidence to the contrary.

Three cheers for this "reporting" from the WaPo! Woodward and Bernstein would be proud.

Posted by: aaronwe | December 23, 2009 11:25 AM | Report abuse

What is your response to this criticism?

Posted by: subwayguy | December 23, 2009 2:11 PM | Report abuse

It's ironic how many people major in journalism only to become PR people for the state. If this blog post was meant to be sarcastic, it would've been hilarious. But, Matt is being serious and that is vert, very sad.

Posted by: notindc1 | December 23, 2009 3:45 PM | Report abuse

The Wash DC City Paper is a bogus POS.
Have caught them copying my comments I made in the WashPost that they recopied & put in their rag claiming I was a "MPD white official".
Those bozo's aren't journalists... plus they delete more than half the comments over at that rag if they don't like the content.
What criticism...first you have to be a honest reporter.

Posted by: digtldesk | December 24, 2009 10:18 PM | Report abuse

What is a daily paper if not the faithful publicity department for the local police department? This is as much true WaPo as it is for The Bakersfield Californian. WaPo reporters do get paid more for sporting brown noses, however.

Posted by: ronpaul2008com | December 26, 2009 9:54 PM | Report abuse

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