The Big Picture

It all comes together in the end—drugs, murders, rape, overdoses, heroin and shoplifting—that’s what you learn covering cops and courts.

That isn’t my only job at the Sun, but lately cops and courts have been a large part of what I cover, and today I got to put the finishing touches on a story that weaves together a lot of that coverage to get at the bigger picture.

A few months ago I was not in the good graces of the Conway Police Department. I reported on some irregular spending right before the town meeting vote, and the story likely contributed to their not getting approval from residents for two additional officers they wanted. They were not psyched, but there was no question about the accuracy of my reporting.

Then came the Krista Dittmeyer case, where, as the local media, I was the familiar face in the crowd. We were fair yet aggressive, and as were the police, and I got to know the administration a little better.

Last was the story of the money stolen from within the police department. I handled that as carefully as I could, avoiding sounding accusatory while still pressing for the story.

All that time, every day, I type up the police logs and the court news. Every day I see what they see, although instead of seeing it on the street I see it in black and white. And what I saw recently had me concerned.

Fire and medical calls are dispatched through the police dispatch in Conway, and I started seeing repeated calls for people unconscious in random places. One or two wouldn’t be a big deal, but they kept popping up, usually younger, between 18 and 50, an age you wouldn’t expect to just pass out.

Around the same time I read a story in the New York Times about a new drug called “bath salts.” The light clicked for me that these might be a new drug problem.

It turns out I was right and wrong—they weren’t bath salts, but they were the town’s drug problem, a problem most visitors never even consider. But it’s serious, and it centers around prescription medications.

And to top it all off, over the course of my covering serious cases at the court I’d noticed strange overlaps of people, overlaps that were one or two people removed, but close enough to think there must be connections between actors in several of the serious crimes in Conway.

It all tied together, but it’s hard to pull those connections into a story. I can’t just write what’s in my head—you need facts, quotes, other people to confirm things. But tomorrow’s story, somehow, is just that—what was in my head. I was able to peg it to an event, talk to people in law enforcement, health and human services and emergency medicine and pull state and national statistics together to make that comprehensive story, the one not about day-to-day events but about the big picture.

Big picture reporting is hard. It takes time, and sometimes the story is just, well, too big. Today, I think, I pulled it off. It follows a thread throughout, but it goes everywhere, and hopefully in the end it opens people’s eyes. Looking at police logs and court documents certainly has for me, and reporting is about being the eyes for everyone else.

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