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Cheney story proves newspapers’ mettle

SHARE Cheney story proves newspapers’ mettle

The next time someone argues that newspaper journalists are dinosaurs headed for extinction, I'll remind them of Vice President Dick Cheney's shooting accident on the Armstrong Ranch.

Radio stations and cable news channels didn't break that news; neither did local television news stations. You didn't see it first on national news Web sites or blogs or on the Sunday morning political talk shows.

Our own Caller-Times reporters were first with the story that Cheney had accidentally shot Austin, Texas, attorney Harry Whittington during a quail hunt in Kenedy County. We broke the national story at 1:48 p.m. Sunday with an e-mail alert and a story on our Web site Caller.com, 48 minutes before the Associated Press moved anything on the story and a full hour before CNN issued an e-mail alert.

We got the story the way dedicated journalists have tracked down news for years — through strong, consistent building of sources and good, old-fashioned reporting.

As on most weekends, we operated with a skeleton crew this past Sunday, with most staffers scheduled for work in the afternoon.

Because of the Armstrong family's long-standing professional relationship with reporter Jaime Powell, Katharine Armstrong called Powell around 8 a.m. Sunday and left voice mail messages to return the call. Powell, who was in Austin, did not immediately receive the messages.

Unable to reach Powell, Armstrong called the newsroom at about 11 a.m. and told reporter Kathryn Garcia about the shooting. After that conversation, Armstrong called Powell again, this time reaching her on her cell phone and also recounted the accident for her.

Driving back to Corpus Christi, Powell talked to Armstrong in detail, and Garcia reported the story fully. She confirmed the shooting with the White House, checked on Whittington's condition at the hospital and called the Kenedy County Sheriff's Office, which said at the time that they had no record of an incident at the Armstrong Ranch.

Garcia contacted her editors and wrote the story, which then went through a quick editing process before being posted on Caller.com at 1:48 p.m. by New Media Manager Trent Spofford.

Once in the newsroom, Powell spoke to Armstrong again and said she wanted to talk with the vice president, whom she had met last year at the funeral of Katharine Armstrong's father, Tobin. Cheney came to the phone and briefly spoke with Powell — his first public comment on the matter.

Online Editor John Allen worked with the newsroom throughout the day and night Sunday, updating the story several times on Caller.com.

In Monday's paper, we provided more details, maps and photos for those readers who wanted more in-depth news. We continued to follow the story Monday on Caller.com, with news that the sheriff didn't investigate the accident until Sunday.

The Associated Press and CNN picked up the story after us Sunday afternoon, and news media organizations throughout the country, including The New York Times and ABC's "Good Morning America," credited the Caller-Times with breaking the story.

We fielded dozens of media calls Monday, with Powell and Garcia granting numerous radio, television and print interviews.

Meanwhile, the national press corps grilled White House press secretary Scott McClellan on Monday about why news of the shooting wasn't released by the White House or Cheney. The vice president's main concern, McClellan said, was for Whittington's well-being.

And with the vice president's knowledge, Armstrong called her hometown paper and Powell.

"You had a relationship with my father," she told Powell. "You and I had a relationship and that relationship had grown stronger after my father's death, and my family was comfortable calling the hometown newspaper."

Maybe it's the pride in my staff talking, but I believe the White House press corps is whining just a bit because this news came first through a local daily newspaper's Web site and not following a mass press briefing thousands of miles away from the accident. We got the story first by consistently working hard and professionally. And because we did, the rest of the world got the story, too.

"We knew we needed to make it public," Armstrong told Powell. "It was a private weekend hosted by a private family, and we were comfortable calling the hometown paper and you.

"I trust you."

Caller-Times employees work hard to establish that trust every day, and that, coupled with aggressive, thorough and accurate reporting, will secure our existence for decades to come. Whether we deliver the news through a newspaper, a Web site or the new technology of tomorrow, we'll still be the ones who gather it. And if we do our job right, we'll still be the ones you trust.

Scripps Howard News Service