Last week was another frustrating exercise in trying to wrestle public documents from a public agency.
It took two days, a formal written request from us, a call from an assistant state attorney general, a letter from our attorney and apparently a request by Randy Dorn’s attorney before the City of Orting released the police report on last weekend’s arrest of the state schools superintendent. Dorn was cited for driving under the influence after being pulled over in Orting for speeding and for a defective taillight.
Police reports typically are made public as soon as charges are filed. Dorn was charged Wednesday.
But this story may not have come to light at all if not for the solid beat work of reporter Melissa Santos. Santos’ beat is East Pierce County and includes the cities of Puyallup, Sumner, Bonney Lake and Orting.
The editors in our local news department go back and forth between staffing up on beat reporters and relying more on general assignment reporters. The reality is that we must have some of both.
General assignment reporters typically cover whatever story is breaking that day as determined by editors. Mike Archbold works general assignment for us. In the past week, Archbold has written about the Children’s Museum of Tacoma’s move to Pacific Avenue, the conviction of a McNeil Island Special Commitment Center resident in a drug-selling scheme, and road rage over traffic backups on state Route 16.
GAs, as we call them, give editors the flexibility to deploy on a moment’s notice, cover a story on any topic and quickly turn around a report for the Web site or the next day’s paper. Television and radio stations, with far fewer reporters and far more territory to cover, use mainly GA reporters.
Beat reporters, conversely, develop their expertise and sources over time. Thus, their stories often come from the ground level, not from assignment editors. Their best stories aren’t initiated by a news release or a breaking news event. They are cultivated. Because of that, they are stories our readers won’t find anywhere else.
The News Tribune’s local news department has government beat reporters at the city, county, state and federal level. We have geographic beat reporters such as Santos in the suburban communities. We also have issues beat reporters who cross jurisdictions to cover education, the environment, the military, crime and justice.
To use a military analogy, the difference between a GA and a beat reporter is like the difference between a general infantry soldier and a soldier who works in intelligence or reconnaissance.
The value of having good beat reporters was highlighted for us when Santos received a phone call Monday from a trusted source in Orting that the state schools chief had been arrested. Officials wouldn’t confirm it on the record, and Dorn wouldn’t provide a statement despite our pressure for him to say something, until Tuesday morning. That’s when we went with the story.
Here’s what Santos’ editor, Matt Misterek, had to say about the importance of her work:
“This story, picked up by media all over the state, started with a source in Orting who felt comfortable contacting Melissa after working with her for two years. Had that mutual trust not been in place, the people who elected Randy Dorn to statewide office might still be in the dark today about his DUI arrest.”
RECIPE CLIPPERS – WE DID IT FOR YOU
You may have noticed a change in our Wednesday food section. Instead of running recipes alongside stories throughout the section, we’re lining up all the recipes in a column on Page 2.
The goal is to make it easier for readers to clip out those recipes.
Food editor Sue Kidd and page designer John Ellingson came up with the idea.
“I’ve heard from readers over the years that our recipes were not easy to clip because they’ve been so spread out and sometimes designed in a way that made them hard to clip and save,” Kidd said. “With the new design, they’re all contained in one place where readers can clip as they see fit.”
An added bonus is that because they’re on Page 2, readers will no longer be frustrated by clipping recipes only to find a grocery store coupon on the back.
Ellingson has inserted a bold black bar into any food story with a recipe, telling readers they can find it on Page 2.
Karen Peterson: 253-597-8434