Like many editorials, we start in one direction and after further consideration and sleuthing, go someplace else.
This journey began when we heard a 28-second segment on National Public Radio on March 23 about the camera lost in the Animas River nearly 13 years ago, then found by angler Spencer Greiner of Durango. Greiner pried open the camera, retrieved images of wedding celebrations and tubing the Animas, and posted them online, where they were reunited with the camera’s owner, Coral Amayi.
How exciting! NPR picked up The Durango Herald reporter Reuben Schafir’s story that appeared in Sunday’s print edition on March 19, then online March 20. But, wait. Where was the credit to the Herald and our fast-on-the-story reporter?
Not again! It happens too often that smaller papers and reporters are not properly credited by what’s referred to in the business as parachute journalists, dropping onto local turf. Larger media outlets are also quick to report the dearth of local news, this tremendous loss to communities and even our democracy. So it’s especially annoying – when it appears – larger media outlets don’t recognize smaller, local ones. Our first reaction was, what the heck? But there’s more to the story.
On Tuesday, we saw what we called “Reuben’s story” in The Washington Post, with new reporting by Cathy Free and the photo Schafir had asked Greiner to take of the camera. No credit to the Herald. Instead, Free had sourced Denver’s FOX31 KDVR with reporting by Evan Kruegel on March 18. Hmmm.
Free wrote in an email, “I did not hear about this story from your newspaper,” and “it’s our policy to link to the first local story.”
First local story? From a TV station in Denver, 340 miles away? Curious. Schafir was under the impression he was the first reporter on the scene. We have every indication Schafir did interview Greiner first, then write the story. It’s just that the story spread wildly and quickly, in different directions through different individuals, mushrooming and popping up in multiple news outlets across the country. Then the world. Honestly.
Consider the timeline. On March 15, Schafir first saw Greiner’s Facebook post about the found camera. It had perfect, timely elements of local storytelling. The Animas River, spring snowmelt, a fishing tale, intrigue. Most important, a happy ending that goes against the odds. A person lost something precious that was found, then returned, reuniting her with sweet memories.
Schafir interviewed Greiner that same day, March 15. A reporter’s intuition kicks in when he’s the initial contact on a story. The source is often surprised, maybe even a little excited a reporter is interested. If the reporter is not the first, the source tends to mention he spoke with someone else or is expecting a call from another news outlet or has been inundated with requests. This is generally how it goes.
Separately, FOX31 was soon on the story. Managing Editor Jennifer Brockman at FOX31/KWGN, who assigned the story to Kruegel, wrote in an email: “We got an emailed tip from a viewer on 3/16 with a link to a Facebook group on which the missing camera info was posted. The owner of the camera responded to the Facebook post so that’s how we contacted both the person who found it and the person who lost the camera. We aired the story on 3/18.”
After Schafir interviewed Greiner, Greiner said he was contacted by FOX31. “Hey, I believe I talked to them the next day, so that would have been the 16th,” he wrote in a Facebook message.
Schafir interviewed Greiner first, but FOX31 aired the story the day before Schafir’s story ran because of the Herald’s print schedule.
This is how and why the Post credited FOX31, even though Schafir was on it right away and the Animas River is in our backyard.
There’s a reason for the newsroom’s timing. Schafir filed his story on March 16 before it appeared in print on March 19. Posting online the next day, Monday, March 20, made sense; an ideal day early in the workweek when readers reach for news. A feel-good story, too.
Other news outlets that reported on “Reuben’s story,” uh, er, the camera story. New York Post; the “Today” show; UPI; MSN; 9News in Denver; Yahoo! Life; Yahoo! Finance; “Inside Edition”; Fox News; ABC7 News; WXXi in Rochester, New York; Texas Public Radio; and multiple other NPR affiliates and TV stations that shared this story as far away as Australia and the United Kingdom.
Still, we’re sticking with the origin story here at the Herald. Fair enough? We’ll put that flag in the ground – or maybe the Animas River – in Durango. This story is certainly one that’s spread joy – literally – around the planet. And this makes us happy.