On October 2, Desert Valley Times reporter Lucas Thomas stood outside the former residence of Stephen Paddock in Mesquite, Nevada. As journalists in Las Vegas reported on the massacre carried out there by Paddock, Thomas appeared on a Facebook Live video and said that many Mesquite residents lacked a sense of Paddock’s identity. “People don’t even seem to know who he was,” Thomas said. “They’re sort of learning as we learn.”
Missouri hasn't been the safest place to be a journalist in recent weeks, according to the US Press Freedom Tracker. Getty photographer Scott Olson and St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Mike Faulk were arrested Sept. 17 while covering protests in St. Louis after the acquittal of Jason Stockley, the white former police officer who fatally shot Anthony Lamar Smith, a black man. Jon Ziegler, an independent livestreamer known as “Rebelutionary Z,” was also arrested at the protests. And the week before, Randy Turner, an ex-newspaper reporter who runs a blog, was punched at his home Sept. 11 after a man knocked on his door and asked, “Are you Mr. Turner?” As CJR's press freedom correspondent Jonathan Peters tweeted, "This is dangerous for democracy."
Thomas, the first journalist to reach Paddock’s house, is the lone reporter for Desert Valley Times, which is part of the USA Today Network. As he shared updates with his Twitter followers, Thomas received a slew of interview requests from other media outlets, ranging from a New Zealand radio station to Rachel Maddow’s MSNBC show. “Despite all that,” writes Jon Allsop at CJR, “Thomas hasn’t yet written about Paddock for his own newspaper.”
The Desert Valley Times publishes twice weekly; yesterday’s issue carried a number of bylines by USA Today reporters, none of them Thomas. “I was more tasked with gathering information and making that available to the collaborative effort,” Thomas tells CJR. “I’m happy to help out, don’t get me wrong. I’m a team player.”
But the episode provides an instructive look at how local reporters view their responsibilities when national news media briefly inhabit their city. “Journalists who parachute into a trauma-struck small town can’t hope to capture the place as accurately or deeply as a beat reporter who lives and works there,” writes Allsop. “The local reporter has a deeper understanding of the community, and can call on familiar sources to get updates before national competitors.” However, local reporters “can’t corral resources from a broader pool to bolster their coverage.”
At CJR, Allsop speaks with the local and regional reporters who cover Mesquite, whose work may be less visible to the rest of the nation but is perhaps more critical to a community searching for clarity. Read his story here.
Peters spoke with 10 media lawyers and news executives about concrete steps news outlets should take when their reporters cover protests. Read—and share—their advice.
After months of debates over Republican efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, “it’s become clear that Medicaid has tremendous public support,” a vice president at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities tells CJR. Medicaid has been the subject of “much more focus in this debate than I’ve ever seen in any health policy debate.” For CJR’s “Covering the Health Care Fight,” Trudy Lieberman spoke with reporters in several Medicaid expansion states and detailed what may be local journalism’s best effort to-date in covering Medicaid, and why it matters.