What’s happening at your newspaper | PostIndependent.com

What’s happening at your newspaper

Randy Essex
Staff Photo |

A reader last week emailed one of our reporters about a traffic accident near Aspen Glen on Highway 82 that seriously injured a young woman.

“I read the PI daily and not once did I see an article in the newspaper on the accident. What’s happening to our newspaper?”

Then on Wednesday, after we had published a story and photos online about the power outage that morning in Glenwood Springs, a couple people asked on Facebook why we hadn’t posted information about electrical interruptions Tuesday evening.

These aren’t unreasonable questions, and it’s kind of flattering that people expect us to be aware of all things that happen at all hours in Garfield County. Unfortunately, we have limitations and obstacles to fulfilling that.

We obviously rely on government agencies to provide information that’s of public interest, particularly on matters involving safety. Then we can use our website and social media accounts as megaphones to spread the word quickly. We have good reach, with close to 10,000 people visiting postindependent.com on an average weekday — many more on a busy day — and 6,500 Facebook followers.

Short of agencies being proactive about sharing news, we hear things from readers and follow up on them.

A good example of that was the small range fire that flared in July just south of Glenwood Springs. Smoke was visible from Highway 82, and we got a couple of phone calls that enabled us to pursue information by phone as we dispatched a reporting intern and photographer to the area.

Each story is different. Last February, we got an alert from the Colorado Department of Transportation that I-70 was closed just west of Glenwood. As we checked on that, we got a call from someone saying there had been a shooting. That unfolded into one of the biggest stories of the year: Garfield County deputies had shot and killed an armed man at the end of a chase that started in Parachute.

Fully half of our staff — reporters Will Grandbois and John Stroud, photographer Colleen O’Neil and I — worked the story that night well past the time we ordinarily go home — just part of the news business.

But we have limitations. We are a staff of nine (one of whom is part time): an editor, two news reporters in Glenwood, an editor/reporter in Rifle, a photographer/videographer, a sports editor, an entertainment editor and two copy editors.

Other than copy editors who are designing the paper and our photographer/videographer, we take nights and weekends off, though we cover specific events or stories that break, such as the recent plane crash on a Sunday between Glenwood and Carbondale.

While we respond to traffic accidents, chances are that several occur over the course of a year somewhere between Parachute and Basalt that we don’t hear about at all, and some, like the one that injured the young woman, that we don’t hear about until later.

Even the police don’t hear about everything. We recently ran a story about a downtown sculpture being vandalized, and a reader commented that it had been damaged for weeks. Apparently no one told the police, who learned of the incident shortly before we wrote the story.

The Colorado State Patrol sends news releases on some but not all traffic accidents. For the one that injured the young woman, the patrol did not send a news release, and when we inquired about it, the public information officer couldn’t find a report.

We hear about more accidents either from readers or because of CDOT announcements regarding road closures than we do from law enforcement. Officers’ first several jobs in handling an accident don’t involve alerting the media, though it’s also true that many agencies are more proactive about informing the media than our local authorities.

Some of the information we do get is not actually informative. Here, for example, are a couple of typical entries in the daily “Activity Report” sent to media by the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office: At 5:15 p.m. Nov. 10, “Deputies responded to a call in the Glenwood Springs area. This case is open and under investigation.” A bit after 10 p.m. Nov. 11, “Deputies responded to a call near the Town of Silt. This case is open and active pending further investigation.”

The Glenwood Springs Police Department issues a weekly incident report on its website. In most towns, a reporter or citizen can go to the police station and examine daily incident reports, but that’s not the case here.

Our crime reporter monitors Garfield County Jail bookings and follows up on felony charges.

Several of us are signed up for alerts from Garfield and Pitkin counties that are sent to our phones as messages. I subscribe to an emergency email alert system that lets me know about mayhem everywhere in the state. Some of us use the Glenwood Springs city government app on our phones, which in theory also alerts us to emergencies. In the case of last week’s power outages, the city didn’t send a message until Wednesday morning — not long, it turned out, before power was restored.

To be blunt, governments and law enforcers in Garfield County are less concerned with sharing real-time information with the public than anywhere else I have worked in a 35-year journalism career. Eagle and Pitkin agencies are much more proactive about this, but the State Patrol is not.

Bottom line: As much as we want to find out about everything right away, we don’t. I urge you to continue helping be our eyes and ears and alert us to what you see and hear out there. Call me at 970-384-9110 or email ressex@postindependent.com. We’ll follow up as best we can.

Randy Essex is editor of the Post Independent.

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