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DEAR READER: Reader contributions improve our coverage

Friday, June 1, 2012 | 6:07 p.m. CDT; updated 8:59 p.m. CDT, Saturday, June 2, 2012

Dear Reader,

The dispatcher begins like dozens I’ve heard that turn out to be nothing more than a hurried trip to a trash bin.

"Commercial structure fire, College Avenue and Walnut Street."

The next bit erases any doubt that this is A Big Deal.

"Snozzle 1, quint 4, quint 9, ladder 1, squad 3, medic 151, chief 7, battalion 2, delta response commercial structure fire …"

Translation: The dispatcher is calling on four firefighting trucks, an ambulance, a specialized rescue equipment truck and two fire supervisors. The fire at the apartments under construction will turn out to be one of the largest in memory and cost its developers $7 million in damage.

You can hear the story through scanner traffic from that day on columbiamissourian.com, courtesy of Missourian reader Brad Wilmot. It's an example of bringing community experience and expertise directly to us, the readers. Throughout the day and the week, readers and journalists alike have contributed to the coverage to produce a fuller picture.

Wilmot edited out all the dead air and calls unrelated to the Brookside fire. The file is a few minutes shy of two hours — a far cry from the 13 hours of recordings he had to sift through.

(I say "had to," but I’m told Wilmot is a pretty passionate radio aficionado.)

The Missourian staff has neither the time nor expertise to create the file. Wilmot, who works as a dispatcher, did.

Wilmot also submitted one of the more memorable photos from the day. It was shot from his apartment window and gives a sense of the size of the fire from a long distance. It complemented dramatic, up-close photos from Missourian photojournalists, the Fire Department and from other readers.

It’s a great example of the power of the From Readers section (formerly known as MyMissourian.com). The newspaper staff can’t be everywhere, even on a big breaking news event like Brookside, and especially at 5 a.m. on a holiday weekend.

Clyde Bentley, who founded MyMissourian.com in 2004, called the coverage an "important milestone in the evolution of the Missourian."

"What we are seeing now is the realization of the community that the Missourian is 'their' paper and the realization of journalists that citizens can be our eyes, ears and cameras," he wrote in an email to staff members. "I think the prominent display we gave to the work of those non-journalists will inspire even more people in the community to think first of the Missourian when they have a photo, story or idea to share. We will vet the source and edit where necessary, but that important byline becomes a 'shareline' in which we take pride."

I generally agree. It’s an important moment.

Covering the big news isn’t the most important purpose of receiving stories, photos and other information from you, the reader.

More important are those stories that the professional journalists would never get to and we, consequently, would never see. Stories like Roy Robinson’s reflections on his cousin Kenny Hunt: "I frequently think about the reason that Kenny survived terrible injuries in Vietnam. I choose to believe that he is here to be an inspiration to everyone. He simply chooses to be happy, and he makes other people feel better as well."

Robinson and Wilmot help provide a well-rounded report in what is the daybook of Columbia.

Tom


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