Newspaper reporting Part 3

Not all news is breaking news

(Since I ran two blogs on newspapering in Duval County, I thought it appropriate to run a column I wrote in 2006, which gives my approach to news reporting. Brought back fond memories of my days reporting the news of Duval County.)
Thankfully the silliness over Vice-President Cheney’s accidental shooting of a friend did not get legs, as they say in the business, but it certainly created a stir for a week. It brought back to this writer memories of the days when getting the news was work done by news reporters and not provided in a silver platter by spokesman. Besides, no reporter worth his pay would trust a spokesman as far as he could throw him.

What the President’s spokesman should have said to David Gregory of NBC News and his fellow White House press corps was to go do their job. More importantly, Gregory’s editor as well as the other editors that lay claim to Washington news should have told their reporters to do their job. It is not the President’s spokesman’s job to report for the Washington media.

Washington reporters, and I use the term loosely, have forgotten how to do their jobs. Or perhaps they never knew the ins and outs of newsgathering. There is no better place to practice the art of reporting than in a small news setting for a weekly newspaper.

The county sheriff or the local justices of the peace do not have spokespersons to dole out information. Highway patrolmen, deputy sheriffs, police chiefs, ambulance operators, hospitals, bailiffs, district clerks, county clerks, county judges, school superintendents, principals, water district managers, and assorted other local movers and shakers do not have spokesmen to assist the local editor with his news gathering.

The Washington media fretted over the fact that Vice President Cheney did not speak to them for four days. When he did come out they fretted that he spoke only to one source and that a friendly one at that. Meanwhile, the local and area newspapers in Corpus Christi, Kingsville and Alice, were applying the shoe leather and burning the telephone lines getting the facts. Ironically, it was the guys that were doing the real reporting that were being ridiculed by the so-called lions of the media. No less a respected journal than the Corpus Christi Caller-Times was referred to a small town newspaper and Podunk by the national media; the gall of the Washington bums.

The truth is that there was no real public interest in the story. It did not involve the vice-president in his official capacity, nor did involve the development of public policy. The facts were simple. The Vice-President of the United States decided to go quail hunting. Experienced hunter that he is he knew the best quail hunting is in South Texas. Naturally, he called up friends in the area and got invited to a quail hunt. Pretty typical of most hunters I know. Other friends tagged along and some time during the hunt someone got their wires crossed and bang a hunting accident occurred. Fortunately for everyone involved, especially the injured party, no one was killed or gravely wounded.

None of these facts point to a public interest, other than the fact that the shooter is the vice-president of the United States. Sure that’s newsworthy, but it is not fodder for the 24-hour news channels to go berserk over it. After all, no one was killed, no car chase ensued, no kidnapping, no torture, not much of anything.

Still if the national media thought it deserved more coverage, then by all means do the coverage. Contact the sheriff in Kenedy County; call the hospitals in Kingsville and Corpus Christi; talk with the ranch owner and ranch hands that served as guides; track down the injured party’s family members; in short do what reporters in Podunk markets do everyday.

Oh, glory were the days, days when I had coffee with the sheriff’s office folks every Monday to see what happened over the weekend. I still fondly remember visiting the district clerk’s office to see who had been indicted or who was going on trial that week. And then I would follow up with the district attorney or the defense counsel involved. 

Fortunately, I did not have the deadlines that the electronic media or big time dailies had and much of the breaking news could hold a few days until I could get around to it.