“I wanted to bear witness to what had happened, and to what was happening in the courtroom. I couldn’t have done that without the Twitter coverage.”
Cindy Shumaker was a brand new mother when John Hartman was killed in 1997. She remembers being glad that they caught the perpetrators so quickly, and feeling a deep sense of connection to Hartman’s mother. With a brand new son of her own, she just couldn’t imagine what it would be like to lose a son that young.
By the time the Fairbanks Four evidentiary hearing started in October 2015, Shumaker believed that a grave injustice had been done. She had read the coverage from Brian O’Donoghue and like him, she had come to think that the work of the police had been badly done. Working less than a block away from the courthouse, she said, “Everyday it was hard to turn my car around the courthouse and go to work. Without knowing that there was going to be the coverage that you (@JuliaFBXLawRpt) were giving us, I wouldn’t have been able to go to work.”
Question: What made you interested in the Fairbanks Four Evidentiary Hearing?
Shumaker: “One day out of curiosity, I clicked on the Fairbanks Four page and read the news story from Brian O’Donoghue. I was hooked. What impressed me most was that he was just like me. He believed they were guilty. He was irritated at the constant pestering he got from the FF folks, and agreed to do another story and then be done with the issue. Again, I was hooked. I was an observer at first. Never an activist. Never went to any rallies. But I did talk to my acquaintances about it. I wanted to go to every day, every minute of the hearings, but obviously couldn’t take that much time off work.”
Q: How many times per day, on average, did you check coverage about the hearing?
Shumaker: “I watched your (@JuliaFBXLawRpt) tweets daily. Had them up on my screen, and was able to see when you began to post as the ticker on your “tab” would grow. Once a good number of your tweets were uploaded, I went to see what had happened. It was difficult to concentrate at work those 5 weeks. I so appreciated the tweets. I followed you, Buxton (@FDNMPolitics) and Friedman (@FDNMoutdoors) and liked the mix of tweets that I felt gave me an excellent summary despite the fact that I couldn’t be there in person.”
Q: How much of what you read about the Fairbanks Four evidentiary hearing came through Twitter? How much came through traditional media sources? How much came from talking to people directly involved in the hearing itself?
Shumaker: “Well, I followed it closely through all three sources. I read 100 precent of the tweets, watched/read several news sources that evening or the next day. Talked to people occasionally, though much of my talking ended up being sharing what had happened that day based on what I learned through tweets or news coverage. I also attended in person several times when certain people were due to testify.”
Q: Would you have felt that you knew enough about what was going on without Twitter coverage? If not, what did Twitter coverage add for you?
Shumaker: “No, I would definitely not have known enough without Twitter. It was distracting to have Twitter, however, if there wasn’t that option I would have fretted all day about what was going on at the courthouse. I would have struggled not being there in person. Twitter allowed life to go on, I could go about my daily life and still stay informed. The next best thing to being there.”
JULIA’S SETTLEMENT DAY MEDIA TWEETS
Q: When and how did you become aware that something was happening on Dec. 17, 2015, in relation to the Fairbanks Four?
Shumaker: “I saw a posting on FB about folks gathering there. This was a complete surprise. Since I work nearby, I was able to drop in to see what was happening. An acquaintance had stopped in too. He wasn’t a Fairbanks Four supporter. He asked me why I was there. I told him I didn’t know any of the men personally, but believed firmly in their innocence. I told him I wanted to “bear witness” to their release.”
Q: What level of interest did you have in what was happening on Dec. 17, 2015, and what sources did you turn to for information?
Shumaker: “I had been so disappointed that Judge Lyle had said it was going to be months before there was a ruling, and I really wanted there to be a resolution earlier than that. When I saw your tweets and that the crowd was growing bigger, I had to at least see what was happening. I didn’t want to get my hopes up too much, but I thought that maybe it was real this time.
I wanted to see them walk out the door. I wasn’t able to stay that long, but I was reading everything I could on Facebook and Twitter. Then I went in person at the courthouse. I know I keep saying it, but there has been such a grave injustice done, and I wanted to be a witness to it being corrected.”
Q: What was the 1st way that you heard that the Fairbanks Four had been released? Where did you see the first picture of them free?
Shumaker: “After spending time at the courthouse, I had to leave before the release. I was actually on the road to Anchorage when the official release happened. I watched the tweets and pictures come in on FaceBook. I cried when I saw the photo of them leaving the courtroom, and then leaving Fairbanks Correctional Center. I was so glad that it was real and that justice had finally won out.”
Q: Are there any specific stories or moments from the proceedings that relate to Twitter that you would like to share?
Shumaker: “Looking back, I sometimes get confused on whether I was in the courtroom for particular testimony or if I read it on your live tweets. That’s how powerful having the constant stream of what was happening coming out, including the things you saw and observed, and not just the words people spoke.
I will never forget the testimony of the guy who said, “I tried drinking it out, tried drugging it out…” I read that in your live tweets. The impact of that testimony was so strong. I sat at my computer and cried. Completely gutted. The reach of injustice went so far and into so many lives, not just the lives of the Fairbanks Four, even though they got the worst of it.
“Looking back, it is amazing that experiencing so much of the hearing in tweets would be so impactful. I felt the full range of emotions, and the sense of immediacy, because I was able to read it as it was happening, through you. (@JuliaFBXLawRpt)” – Cindy Shumaker
It really felt like you were there for us, for the community, as our eyes and ears. You were there as the representative of the public, and that made the information you gave us feel so much more immediate and like a service to the community. While the other reporters were good, it felt like you were there as a witness for the citizens, who like me, couldn’t be there all of the time.
(Interview questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity.)