Wick Communications

Satisfaction in the scoop

In journalism on April 27, 2017 at 4:35 pm

Green Valley News Facebook page

This week, the staff at the Green Valley News hit one — or two — out of the park. As often happens, the local newspaper was at its best when something terrible happened in the community.

In this case, it was the Sawmill fire in southern Arizona. At this writing, the fire was only 20 percent contained and had consumed 40,000 acres. It has cost taxpayers $1.6 million to fight so far. The fire is big news throughout the region. Hundreds of firefighters were involved at the scene and smoke and fire was on the mind of people from Tucson south to the border.

There are a number of ways to cover something like this and Wick newspapers in Green Valley, Sahuarita, Sierra Vista and Nogales (that I know of) did it all. Reporters went to the scene. They diligently reported on press releases from authorities who marked the progress of the fire. They took eyewitness accounts and photos from readers. And they worked longstanding sources. This is where local news organizations have the upper hand when big news breaks at home. And this is where Dan and Danielle and the entire GV News team kicked some butt.

Several sources confirmed to the Green Valley News that the fire was started by a target shooter aiming at explosive targets. (As an aside, if that doesn’t sound like a fire waiting to happen, I don’t know what does.) The sources said the target shooter was a man and that he called in the fire and turned himself into authorities. Within 24 hours, Wick’s Arizona newspapers were reporting that the suspect was an off-duty Border Patrol employee.

Official sources were saying none of that. Initially, at least, all they would say is that the fire was “human-caused.”

As a result, we had the extraordinary pleasure of being the source of information for the Arizona Daily Star in the region’s biggest city: …

… Meanwhile a newspaper reported the fire was started by a target shooter.

Several anonymous sources told the Green Valley News that a man was firing at explosive targets on state land Sunday morning, when brush ignited near Box Canyon and the Santa Rita Ranch, according to the article.

One byproduct of that hard work is exploding web traffic. The Wick digital team reported earlier this week that pageviews to gvnews.com were running about three times normal levels. Tens of thousands more were seeing the story on the newspaper’s Facebook page. I’m sure similar big numbers were popping up in Sierra Vista and elsewhere in the Wick Arizona empire.

A word about anonymous sources and chasing scoops. They are not all created equal. As I told some folks down there this week, I wouldn’t run with anonymous information like this without official confirmation unless I was pretty sure of my sources. You have to weigh the likelihood that your sources know what they are talking about against the risk of being wrong. Are they in a position to know? Have they proven trustworthy in the past? Are you able to corroborate the information? Is there a legitimate reason for officials to be tight-lipped? All of those calculations were made in this case.

I would never suggest you trade your credibility for a scoop. Being first is ephemeral. No one outside the business remembers who had the news first. But, boy does it feel good.

Here’s hoping the fire is quickly extinguished and that everyone is safe down there. And three cheers for accurate, quick, useful reporting that helps everyone stay safe.

 

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