Death, and What To Do About It

Yesterday a woman fell ice skating and presumably hit her head. By this morning she was dead. It wasn’t one of those stories you get a press release about, it’s just what happened.

And, since it was at a public skating rink, it was news. That isn’t my favorite kind of news to report, but like fires and felony arrests it landed in my lap.

So here’s the thing: we knew who it was, but we didn’t have all the information. We know her name and where she works, but not her address or her age. Just putting a name out there without more targeted information is bad form, so I started scrambling to get more.

I was able to get people to tell me they had heard it was this same woman, but they also just heard it through the community web, so it didn’t have the kind of value that can be turned into ink on the page. I was finally able to get a little information out of the fire chief, but still no name, address or age.

So what do you do? Do you print the story, knowing you’re right but also knowing someone with the same name could be incorrectly connected because of the holes you were unable to fill?

It’s one of those things where I know I’m right, and so does the rest of the newsroom, but I’ve got no source I can cite. In other words, I don’t know it.

The woman’s story made it into the paper, but she was left unidentified. I tried her kids, her work, the police, town records, anything I could, but that’s where it landed. At least we got something in the paper.

The worst part: figuring out there is a story here at 3:35 p.m. on a Friday. Do you know how many people answer their phone at that time? Not many.

New Projects…

So I’ve got a handful of new projects I’m lining up, some international, some national, some local, all cool. I made my first pitch to the New York Times, something for their travel section, which I’m waiting to hear back about. And I might be able to do a one week fellowship that would give me a foot in the door on doing some international reporting. That, combined with a couple good stories I’ve got in mind has me looking all over while enjoying each day at the Sun.

And it’s not like I’ve got a shortage of stories there. I’m working on one about how the budget committee is becoming a resurgent force, and another about how Irene is impacting the town four months later. That one will likely be an NHPR story as well.

Somedays things are quiet. After four days of vacation, that wasn’t today.

Luckily I got a great NYC trip in, with a slew of fun pictures. Now to just figure out how to incorporate that into my world more…

Not To Be Left Out…

So Google, Wikipedia, Craigslist and seemingly every other online entity or community has something referencing the legislation headed through Congress that could limit Internet freedom. I didn’t want LPJ, which is media-focused, to be left out of this effort, even if I’m not posting about it until three hours before the day ends.

The internet is a fantastic tool. We joked today at the office that if Google isn’t running we aren’t printing. While not quite true, the importance of tools like Google and Wikipedia for modern reporters can’t be understated. Whether the goal is to get a better understanding of a subject before you conduct an interview or to find out all the information you can about someone just arrested for robbery, these are the tools I turn to time and time again. One day without them, or even just a visual cue (like what Google did) won’t go unnoticed.

It was interesting to watch this issue pick up steam and then take off. These bills had been controversial for weeks in certain circles (probably longer in others), but in the last few days people seem to have latched onto the debate. All the sudden it left Twitter and landed in the Times.

It has made for an interesting marriage of old and new media. In so many ways it seems the Twitter and the Facebook discussions are out in front, but it often takes old media recognition to make the spark catch.

Not in this case though; the new media drove this issue to the fore. Even though Google has a corporation behind it, it seemed tied in with the rest of the online community. GoDaddy at one time was in favor of it, but after protests from customers they changed their tune. This strikes me as one more sign, along with the Twitter and Facebook revolutions in the Middle East, that things have changed in media. New media is no longer the accessory, it is the driver.

The difference with this example, however, is it took place in the United States. Our media, in some ways, has now caught up with the rest of the world. For the first time coverage is new media driven. I would imagine this paradigm will remain going forward.

Good News

So I’m planning a few big trips this year. For the past year, with two weeks of vacation, I was fairly limited on what I could do for big reporting adventures. I got to go to Iraq because I had arranged it when I took my job at the Sun, but it was kind of a one time thing. Now, however, I’ve proven myself at the paper and have permission to do things like that more often.

Not all of them will be to war zones, mind you. I’m working now on putting together a proposal for a travel article for the Boston Globe. That will hopefully be on climbing the largest piece of granite in the United States, El Capitan in Yosemite Valley. And then I’m putting together another project to South America to report on the impact the eroding glaciers have had on the tourism industry.

I’m also looking at going to Southern Sudan for the one year anniversary of their declaration of independence, but that is a bit more touchy (Islamist militants and such). But I have the green light to get out there and freelance a bit more aggressively, something I’ve been having a hard time finding the time to do.

And best of all, I don’t have to leave the job I love. It’s awesome when this stuff works out.

More Money

So last night was the real start of the budget season, and the police department budget was up for review by the budget committee. They got taken to task for increasing their budget because in previous years they moved money around to buy equipment they said they needed. That was a story I wrote back in March — it was good to see it referenced this season, and to see that my reporting has the community making possibly different decisions than they might have otherwise.

I’ll post the story as soon as I write up last night’s meeting. Time to get to work.

Primary Flop

This post’s title is not meant to reflect any of the candidates in yesterday’s G.O.P. primary. It is a commentary on how that primary wound up in the Mount Washington Valley. Since mid-December not one candidate came to the Mount Washington Valley. The national media made New Hampshire sound like a madhouse, where you couldn’t go two steps without running into a presidential hopeful. Well I’m here to say that wasn’t the case in Conway, Jackson, Bartlett, Madison or any of the towns I cover. The closest a candidate got was the Mount Washington Hotel, in Coös County,  on the other side of Crawford Notch.

It’s interesting to reflect on that wall to wall coverage with that in mind. I read several stories today about how there were more reporters at candidate events than New Hampshire voters. It certainly felt that way here. I spent the afternoon covering a death on Mount Washington instead of covering politics because, as far as I could tell, there were no politics to cover.

Oh well, the next race is only four years away.

Decisions, Decisions

We got the judge’s order in our Right to Know case today. Apparently I was convincing enough that the judge felt the need for an in camera review of the documents, meaning he gets to look at them and decide if they are of a private or public nature. Others in the office were taking it as a win, but I am a bit more cautious. To me it means neither side won handily, and the judge needs to peek at the cliff notes to make his decision. It does, however, prolong the matter. So we didn’t lose, which was the big thing.

On a similar note, the 26-year-old son of a police commissioner was arrested in November for stealing a truck, and it will be on tomorrow’s front page (below the fold). It in no way reflects on the performance of the elected official, but it was a significant enough crime we just couldn’t ignore it. The result is her name and that of her son will be taken to task because of their relationship. If it wasn’t for his mother’s position on the police commission we wouldn’t report this crime. And yet there is no way to ignore it, because if we don’t put it out there people start wondering if we are colluding with the “powers that be” to keep the commissioner’s son out of the paper.

It’s kind of too bad, but the decision had to be made that way. There wasn’t much we could do after we learned the story — it’s just a newsworthy event. And what’s more, the young man was the victim of an armed robbery two weeks before he allegedly stole the truck, an incident I agreed he didn’t need to be named in because he was the victim. It was again newsworthy that it was a family member of the commissioner who was robbed, but I didn’t think which family member it was was relavant.

Fast forward two months, however, and I can’t leave out that detail. It all ties together. In some ways these stories write themselves. I couldn’t have imagined two months about the person I was trying to protect from undue scrutiny after he’d just had a gun in his face would be looking at a year in jail himself. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like you have any decisions to make when you write a story — this one is one of those instances.