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Aug. 7, 2022

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From the Newsroom: These aren’t stories anymore

By , Columbian Editor
Published:
2 Photos
The Columbian files Josh Smith of Battle Ground,  yawns as waits in line to buy an XBox gaming console at a Vancouver Wal-Mart in November 2015.
The Columbian files Josh Smith of Battle Ground, yawns as waits in line to buy an XBox gaming console at a Vancouver Wal-Mart in November 2015. The store had 18 gaming consoles to sell and gave out numbered tickets to people who planned to wait in line until midnight to purchase them. Photo Gallery

As that big lottery jackpot was climbing toward $1 billion, some of us in the newsroom were talking. But we weren’t talking about what we would do if we won the money.

No, we were talking about how this is one of the stories the local media doesn’t cover much anymore.

Fifteen or 20 years ago, a big jackpot would cause lines to form at the local convenience stores as people plunked down their hard-earned cash for a chance at a dream. Reporters would go out and talk to the people in line: How many tickets are you buying? What would you do if you won?

As Web Editor Amy Libby pointed out, you don’t see those lines much these days. She suggested I write about these kinds of stories that don’t get much local media attention anymore.

Here’s another example we thought of: people camping in line for movie premieres or to buy something. It used to be people would bring their tents and sleep next to the box office or store. Our reporters would ask them how cold and wet they were. Now, the waiting is all online, as anyone who tried to buy tickets to Bruce Springsteen’s Portland show recently discovered. E-commerce has pretty well taken care of waiting to nab that must-have gaming console. And we haven’t gotten up early to cover Black Friday since before the COVID-19 pandemic.

We tried to think of some other examples of local stories not covered much anymore.

I remembered that when I was a rookie reporter at The Wenatchee World, the rule was we covered the Chamber of Commerce banquet and the biggest annual festival in every town in North Central Washington, with a story and photos. In some towns, such as Leavenworth, it was fun and easy work. Other towns, such as Bridgeport, were a little more challenging. (Disclaimer: I haven’t been to Bridgeport in more than 30 years. It may be a really great, dynamic town these days. But in the 1980s, I am here to tell you that it was pretty sleepy.)

A few years later, I married and moved to Clark County. I wanted to get a job at The Columbian, but the newspaper wasn’t hiring. City Editor Gregg Herrington did use me as a frequent stringer, covering night meetings for, as I recall, $35 per story. In those days, the paper tried to attend and write about every public meeting. I went to the La Center school board meetings, Vancouver land use hearings and the Yacolt Town Council. We still cover some public meetings but try to pick the ones that look the most newsworthy.

We still cover traditional beats, such as cops and courts, but the way we get the information has changed. Back when I was a young reporter, I walked to the 911 dispatch center and looked over the logs, which were kept on clipboards. Then, I went to the clerk’s office and read through the new court cases, initialing the back of each file folder so I knew I had seen it.

Now, it’s all electronic. We buy subscriptions that allow us to see the logs, court dockets and files. In addition, most local agencies distribute newsworthy information via FlashAlert, a service run by a local entrepreneur named Craig Walker.

Of course, there are examples of stories we do now that we never would have done before. Pick up any publication and you’ll read about social media influencers, Twitter hoaxes, Facebook threats, etc.

By the way, this trend is not limited to journalism. When’s the last time you heard about someone getting an obscene phone call? But it’s very common to get calls from criminals impersonating the police or the Internal Revenue Service. How many door-to-door sales representatives do you see these days, compared with telemarketing calls and email pitches?

The news goes on. But, over time, the focus shifts.

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