Facebook aids reporting about looting

HOMESTEAD, Fla. — When I began thinking of ideas for my two final stories in Travel Writing, I must admit I had a little trouble. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to write about, what park I wanted to visit or what route I wanted to take. But, it all “clicked” once I started talking to several guest speakers that visited our class, and I decided I would focus my first national park final story on something that had never been written about – looters in Biscayne National Park.

These looters have been stealing artifacts from several of the shipwrecks within Biscayne National Park. Although not all of these submerged archeological sites are shipwrecks, they all hold historical value that should be kept intact for future generations to appreciate.

Charles Lawson was my main source for this project. He is the project manager and an archeologist at Biscayne National Park. He is extremely knowledgable in the subject and has been to all of the sites so he knows first hand what is expected when a looting or vandalism takes place. Although he gave me essential information, as a reporter I know that one source – no matter how credible — is enough. I had to find someone else: an expert, a historian, someone who know about shipwrecks and someone who was familiar with the issue happening at Biscayne National Park.

The last place I thought would be of any use was the place that scored me my second source — Facebook.

After two days of trying to look up people who would be of some help, I decided I would post a status on my Facebook asking my friends if they knew of anyone who was familiar with this issue, or perhaps was a certified scuba diver who had seen any of these sites in the past or was a previous looter.

Facebook, out of all places, gave me my answers.

Within 10 minutes, a former guest speaker that I met at a conference sent me a comment saying his friend was a Florida maritime historian and would be an extremely valuable and reliable source. I was also able to find a certified scuba diver who had been to the shipwrecks and was familiar with the issue and I also found someone who had formally looted. Though the looter did not feel comfortable releasing his name, I still thought it would be a key component to my article so I changed the person’s name, which, in this case, worked out great.

Since looting is illegal, it isn’t a comfortable situation. And although this person wouldn’t loot again, the identity doesn’t change the act. Therefore, I ran with it. I was pleasantly surprised and impressed that Facebook led me to find three of my sources. Needless to say, the historian Carrie Caignet, was more than great. She took me through a history of how looting began and then talked to me about the difference between the shipwreck sites and the archeological sites that have been placed there purposely for historical value.

Because of Facebook, my story became what it was.

I am sure I am not the only one who underestimates Facebook for being anything other than a place to talk and catch up with old friends and post pictures, but it is. It is full of networking opportunities if you connect with the right people and can completely revamp your whole article. It is possible that my outcome was part luck, but it still proves that Facebook can make these connections possible.

Therefore, keep Facebook professional and don’t underestimate its use. My story was possible because of it.

The full story may be read at

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