Sunday, January 16, 2022
Jan. 16, 2022

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From the Newsroom: Bishop story the result of hard work

By , Columbian Editor

This felt like a huge week in The Columbian’s newsroom.

We began our series of editorial board interviews with political candidates. Jaime Herrera Beutler and Carolyn Long held their only scheduled joint public appearance within 100 miles of Vancouver. The Battle Ground teachers strike ended, and all of our public school students went back to class.

And we published the John Bishop story.

Even if you didn’t read it, you couldn’t have missed the 13,000-word story, which ran over six consecutive days. (That doesn’t include a story on today’s front page that was written from developments that occurred on Friday.)

Why did we choose to report this story, and how did we go about doing it?

First, the why: Bishop was the quintessential local boy made good. As lead pastor of one of America’s fastest-growing churches, Bishop became an idol, then fell from grace for reasons that weren’t completely clear. The tragedy was complete when he was arrested for smuggling marijuana across the U.S. border.

We knew there was a good story there, and The Columbian was the one to tell it. We knew our readers were extremely interested, too.

So back in February, after Bishop pleaded guilty, courts reporter Jessica Prokop and faith reporter Patty Hastings started working together to get the story. Our goal was to tell this fascinating story, as completely and fairly as possible, highlighting both the good and the troubled times.

They started with the archives and public records. As they built a detailed timeline, Prokop and Hastings also created a list of people they wanted to interview, with Bishop’s name at the top. They organized the interview list in tiers, starting with an outer ring of people who seemed most likely to speak. Many would; some didn’t.

We had several lively conversations about whether Bishop would agree to be interviewed. They thought he wouldn’t, but began keeping a list of questions just in case. I thought he would speak with us. In the end, he did.

Because we only have a dozen reporters, Prokop and Hastings had to fit all of this around their other stories. It was so hard! Deadlines kept changing. We wanted to time the story to run just before the sentencing, which as we say provides a “news peg,” but the hearing was scheduled and then rescheduled.

As they gathered the story, we brought in News Editor Merridee Hanson and Web Editor Amy Libby to provide visuals and design the package for print and the web. Many others were involved, too, either directly or by supporting those who were working on the project.

One of the hardest things to do was to decide how to frame the story. In the end, we decided to write it chronologically. Prokop and Hastings found an ironic opening scene: On the biggest day of Bishop’s church life, an Easter service at Portland’s Rose Garden arena, he preached about “The Worst Day of Your Life.”

The story flowed from there. Hastings and Prokop sat together in a conference room and wrote and edited each piece, then we reviewed it together. Assistant News Editor Colleen Keller was the lead copy editor. Hanson and Libby designed it.

It was a lot of work, but I am proud of the final product and the great team of journalists we have at The Columbian.