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We're on the run for news

April 29, 2002|BY BILL KOHLER

Dave McMillion, a long-time reporter with The Herald-Mail who covers Jefferson County, W.Va., called at 10:50 p.m.

"Bill, I'm as serious as a heart attack. There's been a shooting tonight in Martinsburg."

"No way," I countered profoundly.

Dave insisted this was no false alarm. I looked at the clock and took a deep breath.

"How much do you know?"

"Not much more than that," Dave said. "Dispatchers said there was a shooting at a mobile home park near Martinsburg and the cops are still on the scene."

Again, I looked at the clock. I took another deep breath while checking out my completed page B1, the Tri-State page.

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We had no choice at that point. To get the story, we had to get to the scene.

Before the age of cell phones, the Internet and pagers, this was the only way to get the news.

Even in 2002, this is still the most reliable way to get what we call "spot" news, the news that happens without planning - such as accidents, shootings, fires, police chases, bodies found dumped along a highway.

Dave, who already had written two stories that night and had been on the job since around 1 p.m., immediately left his office in Charles Town and went to the scene. He knew his time restrictions and planned to call the newsroom with an update as soon as possible.

Dave eventually talked to a member of the Berkeley County Sheriff's Department and got as much information as he could and got the story.

Once he called back at 11:40 p.m., he told us about the circumstances - a teenager was fatally shot by another boy, possibly 8 or 9 years old. This horrible turn of events also caused ripples in the newsroom.

I explained the story to Linda Duffield, The Morning Herald managing editor who supervises the nighttime efforts here. The elements of the story now warranted its running on the front page, which also was complete and nearing its deadline.

We ended up tearing off the inside story promos that run down the left-hand column of the front page and replacing them with a story about the shooting.

We returned to the scene the following day and talked to neighbors and friends of the boy who died. They told us how he was a friendly young man who had just moved to the Martinsburg area with his family.

We found out things about the incident, as well as the victim, that were published in the next day's paper. These were elements we would have been unable to share with our readers if we had not made it to the scene of the incident.

Getting out and talking to people for any story is a necessary tool that is ignored by some newspapers and television stations, big and small.

Not at this paper. I've been here just four months and I know that being out there and talking to people and those affected by what happened is a key part of the news gathering process. The editors know it, and the reporters know it.

Whether it's a spot news event, the Suns' opening day, the Talk of the Town feature in the Daily Mail or people's reactions to a proposed increase in the cigarette tax, we get out there and talk to people. We go where the news is. You can count on it.

Bill Kohler is Tri-State Editor of The Morning Herald. You can reach him at 1-800-626-6397, extension 2023, or by e-mail at billk@herald-mail.com.

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