Who’s chasing whom on stories

By Lou Brancaccio, Columbian editor

Published:

 
photoLou Brancaccio
photoWe’ve done hundreds of stories on the proposed bridge.

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In our business, we call it “the art of the chase.”

A newspaper or TV station gets a story we didn’t have. We know our readers would like it.

So we chase it, or go after it.

But we’re feeling bad we didn’t get it first, and we don’t want it to look like we’re just doing their story, so we dress it up, get some new facts, maybe even get a pretty good new angle to it.

I’m guilty of this. So are all media outlets. TV news is the best at this, because they’re so understaffed they essentially have to rely on the morning newspapers for much of what they do. So if you actually were looking forward to newspapers’ going out of business, you’re also looking forward to seeing nothing but crime and weather on TV news.

But I digress. Sorry.

In the old days, the media didn’t talk much about chasing other newspapers’ stories. It really was just part of the business.

There probably were a few coffee gatherings here or there, where an avid reader would mention it:

“Wonder why the Tribune didn’t have that story the Times had today?” But that was the extent of the issue.

Today, however, in the information explosion on the Internet, someone questioning why a newspaper didn’t have something goes global.

So, hey, I figured it was worth discussing.

This issue is current because both The Columbian and The Oregonian are doing stories on the Columbia River Crossing.

Recently, for example, The Oregonian did a story on how much money actually would be raised by tolling the proposed new bridge. The story quoted a Portland economist, Joe Cortright. He said bridge officials were overestimating what they’d bring in.

It was a very good story. And it’s the kind of story that often brings comments out — something like this:

Are you going to follow what The Oregonian has started and begin giving the CRC a serious investigation?

When I read The Oregonian’s story, even I wasn’t sure if we’d had a story on overestimating tolls. It is really difficult to keep track of the hundreds and hundreds of stories we’ve done on this topic.

So I asked our Metro Editor, Craig Brown, to check for me.

Sure enough, he pulled up a story we did back in October 2010 — nine months ago — that quoted, you guessed it, the same economist The Oregonian quoted. Here’s a piece from our story back then:

“Cortright contends that planners are probably greatly underestimating construction costs while overestimating toll revenue. (The CRC) focuses on projections that traffic will steadily increase across the new bridge, even though traffic counts actually declined across the existing bridge from 2005 to 2009.”

As we go forward covering this bridge issue, we will get beaten on stories. And we will chase those stories when we’re beaten.

But trying to figure out who’s chasing whom might not be as easy as you think.

Lou Brancaccio is The Columbian’s editor. Reach him at 360-735-4505 or lou.brancaccio@columbian.com.