Sunday, April 10, 2011

What have they done with the news?

The day of do-it-yourself news has arrived. This is bad news for me. I'm not just a fan of newspapers, I'm a former reporter and editor with nearly 30 years of newspaper work, including the Arizona Daily Star.

When I worked there, the Star was Tucson's morning paper. Now, since the death of the afternoon Tucson Citizen, it's our city's only daily newspaper. That's part of the problem. Before, if the Star missed a story, the Citizen probably would cover it, or vice versa.

Which brings me to the story I want to tell.

On the evening of April 1, a man tried to hold up a Walgreen's drugstore. Apparently the robbery didn't go well, because it ended with the man racing in his car down West Ina Road with sheriff's deputies in hot pursuit.

At the interection of Ina Road and North La Canada Drive, the botched robbery took an even worse turn. The suspect blasted through the intersection and crashed into a car. The T-boned car went spinning out of control, its accelerator apparently stuck. Then it jumped the curb on the west side of La Canada and plowed into the garage of a house on West Cerrada Vera Cruz.

It didn't just run into the garage -- it went clear through the structure, coming to rest in a mangled wreck in the front yard of the house. There were three people inside the car. Amazingly, they all got out, although one later died.

Firemen and paramedics were on the scene within minutes, putting out the smoldering wreck and treating the victims. Deputies caught the robbery suspect a few miles south of the scene, when his car finally gave out. He's now in jail facing a murder charge.

Needless to say, this was an unusual event in the normally quiet townhouse complex where I live. Many of my neighbors and their dogs gathered across the street from the crash scene that night, wondering how this could happen.

The Pima County Department of Transportation drew a lot of blame for refusing to build a barrier wall between the road and the townhouse complex during the ongoing project to widen La Canada to four lanes. Because of the distance between the roadway and the homes, such a wall was unwarranted, the county has maintained.

If nothing else, the events of April 1 may have proven the county wrong on that point.

But this is a story about news coverage, not roads. And if a bizarre chain of events that caused a car to run through a home, put three people in the hospital and one in jail, and jam up a major intersection for hours isn't news, I don't know what is.

At 10 p.m. that night, KOLD-TV's Channel 13 News reported the accident, with video of the wreckage. I was anxious to see a more detailed report in the Star next morning. Except it never happened.

I have yet to see a word in the Star about the event. Not even when one of the victims died and the charges against the perpetrator were upgraded to murder. Nothing.

There was a shooting that same night in which a teen was killed, and that undoubtedly diverted the time and attention of the Star's cop reporter. But there have been ample opportunities for follow-up, second-day coverage.

I'm not a credentialed news reporter anymore. I don't have the time or access to the police reports or court documents needed to report this story fully. Until now, I've believed I could count on the paid staff of the Star to do that kind of work.

Now, I'm seriously wondering if I need a newspaper anymore to get me started in the morning. Other than "Pearls Before Swine" and David Fitzsimmons' editorial cartoon, what would I be missing?

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