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News / Clark County News

From the Newsroom: We only missed the pizza

By Craig Brown, Columbian Editor
Published: November 11, 2023, 6:02am

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how this year’s election seemed to be a bit dull. Most of the 87 offices on the ballot were uncontested, and, unlike some previous elections, there weren’t any local races that had resulted in a lot of campaigning. As a result, we decided to change our election night coverage strategy.

Instead of having a team of reporters write a half-dozen stories about particular races, Metro Editor Mark Bowder assigned himself to write one election roundup story for the front page, and we moved the election results graphic (which we call a rail) inside the paper.

It turned out to be a good call. The election went about like we expected — voter turnout stood at only 26 percent as of Thursday — and there ended up being a ton of other news to report. The Vancouver City Council ratified a declaration of emergency over the city’s homeless problem. The Clark County Council approved its own anti-camping ordinance. There were three courts stories, all related to homicides. Plus, a man was shot in a parking lot. We didn’t have room for six election stories!

I wondered if we would get any phone calls, as we had done the traditional swarm coverage for at least 20 years. It turned out the only complaint was about the lack of election night pizza for the newsroom. I suspect pizza will be served next year, when we will need a team to cover a ballot with several contentious races.

Choosing A1 stories

Although I didn’t get any questions about the Wednesday paper, our Thursday front page did elicit a good question from a customer. He wondered why we chose Meg Wochnick’s local story about the rivalry between Columbia River and Ridgefield girls’ volleyball teams as our center display package, when we could have used the debate between several Republican presidential candidates. (That story appeared on Page A2, along with a couple of other traditional A1 contenders: the war in Gaza and the end of the Hollywood actors’ strike.)

Here’s the reasoning. We know a lot of our print customers watch TV news, and many also get additional national and world news online. By the time our newspaper reaches them, they’ve already gotten the story. What we can offer uniquely is the very best coverage of news and features about Clark County and Southwest Washington. Last year, we won multiple awards for our excellent coverage of high school sports, so when we have a good story that’s a little different, we want to showcase it on A1.

And here’s a smaller reason, but it is something that has always galled me: Our current system of choosing major party candidates relies on a handful of early-voting states like Iowa and New Hampshire. By the time Washington gets around to it, each party’s choice almost always has been made. So if you like, say, Nikki Haley or Chris Christie, you may not get a chance to vote for them.

A deep subject

It won’t be too long before we choose our top stories of the year. But even with six weeks to go, I can already tell you what our top online story of the year will be. This story has more than double the online readership of any other story we’ve published this year. Can you guess what it is?

It’s a story by business reporter Sarah Wolf about an old cistern, not on any modern map, that was uncovered on Fifth Street downtown. Sarah did a great job with the story, finding an 1888 fire insurance map that suggested the cistern was built to protect the adjacent Hotel St. Elmo. Fire hydrants weren’t a dependable thing in those days, so the cisterns protected major structures.

She even found out about the St. Elmo. With 77 rooms, it was the place to go in Vancouver, hosting groups like the Prunarians, which promoted Clark County’s claim to fame: prunes.

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