Karen Peterson: Once again, News Tribune reporters do job best

EXECUTIVE EDITORNovember 17, 2013 

In this season of Thanksgiving, I’ve chosen today to be thankful for veteran beat reporters.

Business reporter John Gillie proved last week how important it is to have reporters focused on specific beats. Over time, they gain the sources and background to quickly deliver breaking news — and also to tell readers what the news means for them and our community.

Gillie has worked a number of beats in his 37 years with The News Tribune, but now focuses on the aerospace and airline industries, along with the Port of Tacoma. Last week, he wrote three front-page stories on the Boeing Machinists’ contract vote.

The lead of Gillie’s Wednesday story setting up the vote showcased his ability to write authoritatively on this subject:

“When a region’s economy changes dramatically for better or worse, there seldom is a pivotal event that historians can single out as the turning point for the area’s business fortunes. … Wednesday’s Machinists union vote on Boeing’s proposed eight-year labor contract might be the exception to that rule. At stake, says Boeing and some governmental and union leaders, is the future of Washington and the Northwest as the nation’s leading aerospace manufacturing center.”

After so much he-said, she-said coverage leading up to the vote, Gillie understood and told us all how important it was.

At the Wednesday afternoon news meeting, editors were concerned the union didn’t plan to finish counting votes until 9 p.m. That left about an hour for the union to craft an announcement — and for Gillie to learn the results, post them online, talk to union members, get Boeing’s official comment, write a story and file before the first copy deadline. That was if the union finished counting on time — a big “if” when your front page is depending on it.

Gillie walked up to the meeting sporting his trademark no-worries smile. He’d already written his background material. He knew how union officials were orchestrating the announcement. He knew his way around the union voting center. No problem.

At 9:07 p.m., Gillie posted a full story and even took time to post a video of cheering Machinists before filing his story for the paper.

The next day he began writing the TNT’s exclusive Saturday story about what the vote means for the future of Pierce County’s Boeing plant in Frederickson.

Only Gillie was positioned to provide that week’s worth of coverage.

Readers often ask where we get story ideas. Many come from news tips we hand off to general assignment reporters, but most come from beat reporters. As our subject-matter experts, they have a responsibility to tell editors what’s happening, to be breaking news rather than chasing it.

That’s part of what differentiates us from broadcast newsrooms. Made up mostly of reporters who parachute into the story of the day, they are left regurgitating what people tell them, often ill-equipped to add important context.

Gillie on Boeing. Debbie Cafazzo on schools. Adam Lynn on courts. Steve Maynard on religion. Adam Ashton on the military. Craig Hill on outdoor recreation. Todd Milles on high school sports. We get deeper, more local coverage from them and our many other beat reporters because they know their topics so well.

For that, we’re thankful.

WE ASK FOR YOUR PATIENCE

We did a terrible job answering the phones last week when subscribers called our customer service number.

That’s because our call center in the Philippines, run by America’s largest customer-service company, took a direct hit from Typhoon Haiyan. We have a handful of people who focus on customer service here, but they were overwhelmed with calls.

The Philippines call center was near Tacloban, the epicenter of the worst damage. The center was basically destroyed, and although we haven’t been able to reach everyone on our team, we believe all escaped without serious injury.

Still, there is no power and their computers and servers are idled, damaged or destroyed. We’ve shifted calls to sister call centers in the Philippines and U.S., but there just aren’t enough people yet trained on our systems to take the calls.

So lines go unanswered, or waits are way too long. We apologize.

We encourage you to use our automated attendant at 800-289-8711, which can record and communicate about most problems. Or go to our subscriber services link at thenewstribune.com. Either of those systems allows you to report a delivery problem, make a vacation stop or perform other simple functions. For more complicated matters, email us at customerservice@thenewstribune.com, and we’ll get back in touch as soon as possible.

Karen Peterson: 253-597-8434
karen.peterson@thenewstribune.com

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