Missing Pregnant Woman Story Draws Record Interest for Ohio Paper

By: Joe Strupp As the national media descend on Canton, Ohio, to cover the story of Jessica Davis -- the pregnant woman missing since last week -- The Repository, the local daily paper, is finding its longtime community connections are paying off.

Since Davis went missing on Friday, the paper has used its local sources to beat the onslaught of outside reporters to some top scoops. In the meantime, the paper's Web site is breaking traffic records, marking its busiest Web day ever on Wednesday with 83,228 unique users and more than 271,000 page views, each the most since the site launched 10 years ago.

"It's the busiest we've ever been," said Managing Editor M.L. Schultze, who said the web traffic usually runs less than half of that. "Across the board, we are seeing double the usual, and it is growing each day."

The interest stems from the disappearance of Davis, the 26-year-old woman who was nearly nine months pregnant when she was last seen on June 13. She was reported missing last Friday after her mother went to her home, found evidence of a struggle, and her two-year-old son in the house alone.

Schultze said nearly all of her 60-person news staff has worked on the story, which has two full-time reporters and a photographer assigned to it, along with about half a dozen part-time news people. The paper has either printed or posted about 10 stories per day, along with video and audio of interviews and search parties.

The Web site even posted a map of the search area as well as a copy of the missing person flier being distributed in the area, which Web users can download.

"We are updating constantly on the Web for this, no less than a dozen to 20 times each day," Schultze said. "Intermittently, just about everyone in the place is on this." She said at least two Page One stories about the search have been published daily since Friday.

But it has not been the only big story in the area, which has seen four local residents killed in Iraq since June 2. "It has been a tough act for us with both," Schultze said. "We have also been covering funerals. Normally, that in itself would have been a big story. We were in no position to turn down those families and say, 'it doesn't rate.'"

But even with the other big news, and outside media competition, the Repository has been able to break a number of related stories before the national rivals. Among those:

? The first and only interview with Bobby L. Cutts Jr., the missing woman's boyfriend and possible father of her unborn child.
? First report on an FBI investigation into Cutts, which a Repository reporter learned about while working a regular beat at the court house where an FBI agent sought a warrant.
? Most detailed background information on Cutts' 2002 perjury charge, which Repository staffers had from documents obtained at the time, many of which are now under court seal.

"We know the community, so we know the background," Schultze said. Reporter Todd Porter, who interviewed Cutts, was able to get access because he had previously interviewed Cutts three year ago for a sports-related story.

Normally on the sports beat, Porter had written about Cutts when he was a member of a local minor league arena football team in 2004. "I think he was thankful I did that story," Porter said. "I would bump into him over the years. When this happened, I called a friend of his who talked to him and he agreed."

Schultze said her staff has not been spared from the usual influx of parachuting reporters seeking insights. She said the paper still gets about 20 calls per day from other news outlets. "Some of them tell us they will do us a favor by letting our reporters do their reporting for them," she said, noting that Porter has been on four national cable shows this week, including Larry King Live and Anderson Cooper 360. "We are covering it as a daily story, sometimes hourly, sometimes every 15 minutes."


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