The Arizona Daily Star Does Its Job

Just after 10:00 a.m. on Saturday, January 8, Bobbie Jo Buel, editor of the Arizona Daily Star, was at home taking down Christmas decorations when she received a call from the newsroom about a report on the police scanner of a shooting on the other side of Tucson. Within minutes, there were tweets of multiple casualties, including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. The local police were calling for reinforcements from other jurisdictions, which was further evidence that a major incident had taken place. By the first edition 12 hours later, the newspaper had five full pages on the shootings, in which six people were killed, including U.S. district court judge John M. Roll, and 13 people were wounded. Representative Giffords had a serious brain injury, but was holding on in the ICU in critical condition.

In 31 years at the Arizona Daily Star, the second-largest newspaper in the state, with a circulation of over 100,000, Buel had never encountered an area story of this magnitude. The Star, which was founded in 1877, had been owned by the Pulitzer Publishing Company for decades until it was taken over in 2005 by Lee Enterprises, a publicly traded company with 54 other dailies around the country. Although the national newspaper depression of recent years meant some cutbacks, the Star was still far and away the largest news organization in the region. As details poured in, Buel realized that, in various ways, the victims were "about two degrees of separation" from many members of her staff, adding to the emotional force of the massacre and the challenge of covering an enormous story from every perspective, including that of the alleged shooter, Jared L. Loughner, a 22-year-old with a record of mental instability.

Local television and the public radio station were on the scene also, but it was only the newspaper that could devote the space and depth to provide a fully rounded report.

In addition to the lead-all, the Sunday paper had full profiles of all the casualties and of Loughner, sidebars on community and nationwide reaction, graphics and photographs, columns, an editorial, and much more. Every one of the 100 or so staffers that were available was called in, and in succeeding days, a cascade of additional stories appeared. The headline in Thursday's edition was this quote from President Obama's speech to a huge crowd in an arena and adjoining stadium: "What matters is not wealth, or status, or power or fame, but how well we have loved." With Giffords now in a rehabilitation facility in Texas, the story has moved to follow-up accounts and projects, including a takeout on the availability of guns such as the Glock semiautomatic pistol that sells for $550 and the 33-round ammunition clip that Loughner had purchased at a Sportsman's Warehouse near his home. "There was nothing to stop him from buying the gun," the first story on the weapon reported.

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Peter Osnos is a contributing writer for The Atlantic. He is the founder and editor at large of PublicAffairs books and a media fellow at the Century Foundation.

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