Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Beating Joe Klein

Here is a story that encapsulates the decisions and consequences a small town newspaper editor faces.
Most of the hard decisions are not about news. News decisions are easy. The hard decisions have to do with resources.
In January of 2006 we got word that Paul Hackett was coming to Marion to talk to constituents at Buffalo Wild Wings.
Hackett, you probably don’t remember, was the Marine veteran just back from Iraq that was running in the Democratic primary for United State Senator against Sherrod Brown.
Because of resources we rely on the reports from the Associated Press for most of our statewide coverage. Our local reporters and photographers need to concentrate on local news to keep our pages filled with the things the Associated Press cannot cover.
So, when a statewide story comes to town, we have a decision to make.
I really can’t remember all the details of Hackett’s visit. I seem to remember that we heard about it at the last minute and that everybody on staff already had assignments on their schedules.
Normally, what we would do in a case like this, is send a photographer and then pick up something off the wire to run with the picture. None of the writers on our staff would have enough background information and expertise to write anything more than we could tell in picture.
Ideally, what we would have liked to have done was to promote the fact that he was coming. If we had something in the newspaper prior to his visit we could have gotten a crowd out to see him and have something to report - Big crowd for upstart politician.
We decided, reluctantly, to give it a pass and move on.
A few days later I got an anonymous phone call.
“Time magazine is covering events in Marion better than you are,” the caller said.
I visited Time magazine online and found Hackett’s story in Joe Klein’s “In the Arena” column.
I didn’t see that coming.
I never expected to see a national columnist covering something in Marion.
Last Saturday night I was lounging on the couch watching a movie with my wife when my phone rang.
Governor Strickland, the caller said, was going to be at a restaurant in Marion on Sunday at 1 p.m.
Sunday is a day when we have very light staffing. We cover planned events and we respond to breaking news, but we don’t have someone sitting in the bullpen waiting for news to happen.
This was another political race story. Strickland was making a tour in support of Hillary Clinton.
Again this would be a case when a photo and a wire story would be perfect, but I had to decide if I wanted a photographer to start racking up overtime hours during a week when we would have more last-minute political assignments and high school basketball playoffs.
In the end, I decided to attend the event myself with a camera. The Governor is an important person and he doesn't stop in Marion often (he came here when he was running for office, but this was his first visit as Governor).
I went to Perkins at 1 p.m. on Sunday, sat in a room full of loyal Democrats and waited.
The Governor arrived with his entourage and began to circle the tables talking with and charming diners.
You could tell the staff members. They all, even the women, wore dark blue suits and had Hillary Clinton buttons on their lapels.
There was one guy that was obviously with the group but, also obviously, not part of the group.
One of the local Democrats introduced me to him.
“Tom, have you met Joe Klein?”
“You’ve been here before,” I said.
“People keep telling me that,” he replied. “I don’t really remember.”
“Oh, I remember,” I said.
In the next day’s paper we ran a picture of Strickland talking with a couple of local guys about the election. I got a rare photo credit and beat Joe Klein on a story in Marion for the first time in my life.

Tom Graser/The Marion Star

Ohio Governor Ted Strickland talks with Eric Johnson, left of Harpster and his father Robert Johnson of Marion, at Perkins Sunday afternoon. Strickland was in town in support of Hillary Clinton's campaign for the Democratic Presidential nomination. The Ohio primary, which is Tuesday, March 4, is thought by many to be crucial for Clinton to stay in the race.


Wordy girl said...

Great story, Tom! If you ever need a dispatch from St. Louis, I'm there for you! Of course, I probably charge more than the AP...

Jaime said...

Congrats on the photo credit!

Robert Johnson looks a little uneasy...And, I wonder if Joe Klein remembered later when he had last been in Marion.