Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Local Newsrooms Have Shooter in Their Sights

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Local Newsrooms Have Shooter in Their Sights

Article excerpt

Hometown papers are working under pressure, tracking the sniper story deep inside the danger zone

It's been an exciting two weeks for James A. Mann, associate managing editor of The Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., as confronting a major national story is fairly rare in his parts. Still, "We will be glad when it's over," he said Wednesday. "This is not a fun thing to cover. We're the same as anyone in the community. You're looking over your shoulder wondering if you're in a rifle sight."

While they have met the challenge of covering the "suburban sniper" in different ways, newspapers in Virginia and Maryland near where shootings took place (11 incidents causing nine deaths, as E&P went to press) are united in feeling the strain both on nerves and resources. It's especially difficult because, here, it is simultaneously a local, regional, and national story.

Two of the sniper shootings occurred within five miles of The Free Lance-Star. About 12 people at the paper, nearly half the reporting staff, are covering the story. Also involved are all seven staff photographers, and the paper is cooperating with three sibling radio stations.

Kari Pugh, co-lead reporter on the story with Keith Epps, has been working nearly 20 hours of overtime a week lately. "I'm too busy to be scared," she said.

Even as national correspondents flock to the region, The Free Lance- Star has focused on local angles. One article revealed that requests for concealed-weapon permits rose significantly after the shootings as residents sought to protect themselves. Pugh has tried to do some investigative work, but, like the police, she hasn't come up with much.

The paper did not try to interview a local woman wounded Oct. 4, after she asked the media to refrain, partly because she is a possible witness and the sniper is still on the loose. "Every news organization in the world has called me to try to get her phone number," Pugh told E&P, but she has not divulged it.

Even the paper's noncrime coverage has been affected because so many local events have been called off. When high-school football games were postponed from Friday, Oct. 11, to the following Monday, it led the paper to scale back its Saturday issue. …

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