clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Inside the newsroom: Fire and fury in a week of distressing news

SALT LAKE CITY —The call came in — there is a two-alarm fire in West Valley. So the airborne news helicopter diverted from its planned course, our photographer placed a long lens on the scene and discovered this was no ordinary fire.

Fire and heat is dominating much of the news coverage across the West as California is burning — again — and Utah is suffering through weeks-long heat and fires that have kept a blanket of bad air stretched across the Wasatch Front.

In Spanish Fork, ash is dropping on cars and the citizenry as the Coal Hollow Fire in southeastern Utah continues to blacken hillsides and cause challenges for livestock and those who make a living close to the land.

So on Thursday, Deseret News photographer Ravell Call joined his KSL colleagues in Chopper 5 — one of the benefits to readers and viewers of our combined Deseret News and KSL newsroom — in covering breaking news across the state. They were headed toward the Coal Hollow Fire when the West Valley call came in.

Structure fires happen regularly around the Wasatch Front and though they are certainly difficult personal loses for those effected, the extended news value is often minimal. Not so this fire.

Ravell said a house was burning, but there was also a city vehicle that seemed to be burned out. Why the city vehicle? What was it doing there? Reporters were dispatched on the ground and the tragic circumstances of an altercation were revealed. Code enforcement officer Jill Robinson, 52, was shot and killed at the scene. A 64-year-old man who lives in the neighborhood is accused of killing her, as well as setting her vehicle and a neighbor's house on fire, destroying them.

The breaking news stories turned from what happened to why did it happen, and the more in-depth stories we wrote revealed the trouble at the West Valley home, the angry words of the suspect, and ultimately put in context the dangers facing code enforcement officers who face daily confrontations.

It shows the value of local media as the Deseret News and KSL can bring both breaking news and in-depth, comprehensive coverage, and can do so with the trust of the public at a time when national media is taking a hit.

I spoke with readers this week thanking us for our complete coverage, even as they commented on other in-depth work we're doing, including the piece showing a conflict with free speech and religious liberty (Mormon, Muslim and Sikh student groups kicked off Iowa campus amid legal battles) and helping teens find solutions to life-stalling anxiety (Technology, dating, college, career: Here's why today's teens are the most anxious ever).

Last year, research by the Media Insight Project, a collaboration by the American Press Institute and the Associated Press' public affairs research arm, noted the following about media trust:

"The findings show that on many fronts, Americans are skeptical of 'the news media' in the abstract, but generally trust the news they themselves rely on. And most people mention traditional or mainstream news sources as the ones they turn to."

During the past year, national media has been routinely criticized by the public and trust in national media has gone down. But a national survey at the beginning of the year showed that while media is falling short, it has a role to play and confidence remains in local media.

As reported in Forbes: "According to a report published by Gallup and the Knight Foundation that surveyed nearly 20,000 people, Americans strongly believe that the media have an important role in democracy — providing the public with information they need and holding the powerful accountable. But the study also delivers bad news: Americans don't believe the media in this country is doing a good job on those important tasks."

Digging deeper, the survey revealed that 54 percent of respondents said they had "a lot" or "a fair amount" of confidence in a local newspaper, higher than other news outlets.

Whether it is writing about the safety of our community, the air we breathe, the impact of changing values on the family, or the right of people of faith to participate in the public square, the Deseret News is working to be a trusted, valuable voice.

Transparency is also crucial, and a key reason for this column as it allows me to bring readers into the newsroom and show not just how we make decisions, but why we make them. We understand that trust can be earned or lost every day we publish online and in print.