Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Getting the Fix In

Problem with reporting a story to a local paper led to my finally being able to suggest something I've wanted to ask for, for a LONG time.   Here's a suggestion:  a press officer.  Especially for official departments during an emergency.

Clallam Bay has a very small and dedicated fire department, who do excellent work in all areas of firefighting and emergency care, and in getting their message out.  The chief should be especially commended for taking time to organize PR in non-emergency situations. 

The Sheriff's department always has a press contact.  Of course, it has a much larger manpower base, and a larger budget.  But it knows the importance of getting an accurate message out to its community.

I know it will pose a hardship for such a small fire department, but even a quick cell-phone call to me (I'm the local, after all, and can get there sooner), and details when available within the evening if possible, would be a huge help in centralizing information, especially when it will cause suffering if mis-reported because there are no official sources (ie only neighbors).  The fire chief isn't always available; fires can take off again, and the moment for an interview can be missed, at least that night.

When I called the editor of the Forks Forum to advise him of mistakes, he gladly gave me the information he was able to get with his longer deadline.  He also paid attention when I told him the information was iffy -- that most of the people I was able to talk to said, "I don't know.," or were distracted by the fire.  He has helped me out on pooling resources for local papers before, so I was able to get some official information back to the other paper, if only tardily.  Cooperation between local papers is very laudable in community information support.

Normally, a reporter could be sent right out to a street address, but up here, a wrong position can lead to hours of lost time, by which time the emergency is over.  Often, out-of-area papers think everything up here takes place in one community, IE Sekiu.  We take time to check out actual addresses, and I still end up running up and down switchbacks because the editor didn't make the contact to get a gate unlocked.  If I were a full-time paid employee of the papers, with benefits, this wouldn't be so much of a problem for me, but it still leads to missed opportunities.

I do have to say that I'm not going to wait around for up to four hours in the rain for the sheriff or any other officials any more, because I get paid minimal freelance rates.  I've had two cameras ruined by weather (have a nice waterproof one now).  It may lose the local communities coverage, but I have to prioritize work based on payment, and my fans and readers just pay better than these small side newspaper jobs. I'm not trained or really paid as a reporter, but am a fiction writer and artist.  Journalism is a full-time specialty.  Out-of-area papers are just going to have to pay the gas mileage to get their people up here. 

The Forum, which is in the west end, does take this into consideration when asking me to do a story, thinking about mileage and time, and pinpointing places. The former editor, Denise Dunne Devaney instituted a page for the West End in the Forum, and I've tried to keep it live.  A lot of the local community work with me to keep that page in place.  Thanks especially to the Three Sisters of Clallam Art Gallery and the co-op and community gardens in getting their news out.   And holding still long enough to get names spelled right!  I'm sorry your photos have been cut up by the layout people, but space is at a premium for ads in a print newspaper, and it's an editorial and layout decision to chop your heads off.  I try to send them photos they can't chop, but once the paper's got it, that's their business.

Prediction re costs of printing newspapers:  paper may stay around for newspapers, at least for the life of the aging population, but as weeklies, putting up daily news on the internet where it can be quickly corrected.  The Forum already has that system in place.  

The only thing that might save paper printing is making paper out of fiber sources other than wood.  It makes terrible paper, very high in acid, and takes a huge amount of resources to produce.  It's an antique technology, though, and usually once such a technology is thoroughly integrated into an empire's system, it can't be shifted and adds to the burden of the failing economies and systems that appear at the end of an empire. 

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