Cooperation brings statewide exposure to teen violence p.18

By: David Noack When Scott Sines was making his pitch to fellow Washington State newspaper editors about launching a series on school safety and teen violence, he had a powerful weapon of persuasion in his corner: Alice Fritz.
Fritz, who attended last fall's annual meeting of the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Association (PNNA) spoke about the tragic experience of losing her 14-year-old son, Arnold, who, along with another student and teacher, was killed in a classroom at Moses Lake Frontier Junior High a little more than three years ago by Barry Loukaitis, who was also 14 at the time.
"If they [editors] could find a person who is directly involved in the topic, an outsider, a non-newspaper person to come in and really give you that reality check and say this is why this is important. ? She recounted the death of her son, and it just riveted the room and when she left everybody was charged up to do it," says Sines, managing editor of The Spokesman-Review in Spokane.
Project editor Kevin Graman, who is also news editor at The Spokesman-Review, echoes Sines' belief that having Fritz at the editors meeting gave the issue a human face and more meaning that just looking at crime or school safety statistics.
"She was really eloquent and kind of moved everybody. I think that everyone who showed up at that meeting was a little skeptical about what this was all about, and she sort of got everybody motivated," says Graman.
Her first-hand account, coupled with Sines' persistence, culminated in a dozen Washington State news organizations pooling their resources and publishing a three-day series ? Jan. 31 to Feb. 2 ? focusing on the growing problem of youth violence and school safety in the wake of the shootings in Jonesboro, Ark.; Paducah, Ky.; Perl, Miss.; Bethel, Alaska; Fayetteville, Tenn.; and Springfield, Ore.
What sparked Sines' interest in doing a statewide series was his appointment by the governor to a special youth task force to examine the issue. The group held a series of public meetings around the state and produced a lengthy report, and Sines feared that after the panel disbanded the report would be relegated to some government dustbin.
"I had very little faith that anything would come from the public forums. They were pretty much stacked with bureaucrats, educators, people who had a stake in it, and the real representation from the public was not that great," says Sines.
He decided to propose his idea for the series at the annual editors meeting last November. While some papers were enthusiastic, others declined. The state's largest newspaper, The Seattle Times did not participate, but The Seattle Post-Intelligencer did.
Thirty-five reporters, editors, and photographers from the participating news organizations combined their efforts to create the series, which produced 16 stories and more than a dozen photographs, charts, and graphs. The larger newspapers involved in the project chipped in $2,000 to have a poll conducted of the public's perception of school safety and violence.
There were some hitches along the way. The series was published a week later than planned because there were some problems collecting resources from newspapers, and the condensed time frame for the project, from mid-November to early January, took place over the busy Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, making it difficult to reach sources.
Marny Lombard, a reporter for The Spokesman-Review, says that as the lead reporter on the main story the first day the series started, she worked with a reporter 300 miles away.
"In order to get our statewide sense of the problem, we sent a basic survey to the education reporters of about a dozen newspapers across the state and asked them to interview as many school districts that they could wrangle time for. Problem one, for me, was knowing that I would have to grovel a bit to get these strangers to do any work for me. It worked. They sent me great stuff," says Lombard.
Already, there's been a critique of what worked and what didn't work in the series. Sines says that some newspapers are ready to jump into a another series, which he concedes would be easier since they've all learned some lessons.
Increasingly, newspapers are forging ahead with joint projects to give an issue regional or statewide exposure. Within the last couple of years, seven Indiana papers, and 14 in Virginia have investigated how open government records were to the general public.

?(Scott Sines) [Photo]

?(News organizations
participating in the school safety series
The Spokesman-Review (Spokane)
The News Tribune (Tacoma)
Yakima Herald-Republic (Yakima)
Tri-City Herald (Pasco, Kennewick, Richland)
The Columbia (Vancouver)
The Sun (Bremerton)
The Olympian (Olympia)
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer (Seattle)
Daily Record (Ellensburg)
The Daily World (Aberdeen)
The Wenatchee World (Wenatchee)
The Associated Press

The series can be found at: [Caption]
?(Editor & Publisher Web [Caption]
?(copyright: Editor & Publisher March 20, 1999) [Caption]


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