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Columbia Missourian

Everybody gets to participate in gathering the news

By Tom Warhover, executive editor
August 4, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT
Tom Warhover is the Columbia Missourian's executive editor for innovation.

Dear Reader:

It’s not every day that you get a headline like “helicopter crashes” in our fair town. As a matter of fact, I’m not sure the last time I saw one of those birds flitting above the tree line. But crash we had on Tuesday.

Chip Zike says he was one of the first people at the scene. He watched as the site filled with police, rescue and aviation officials and with members of the media.

Chip’s none of those things. He runs a photo studio, Zike Photography, and makes his living shooting weddings and such. But it was his photo that ran online with the Missourian story Tuesday. There was no photo with the print edition.

Chip’s photos didn’t feature great composition. The photo that ran online didn’t capture some human emotion or interaction. It was a “mug shot” of a dead helicopter. There are a dozen ways to say no to running the photo.

But how many times do you see a helicopter in a field in our town? I haven’t been here (or alive) long enough to say never. But I’m guessing the number of copter crashes is hovering somewhere around the zero mark. Until Tuesday.

In the list of news judgments

J-school students carry in their textbooks, uniqueness is right up there with immediacy and proximity. Chip’s photo carried information. It should have run in both Missourian versions.

When I was a young city editor in Virginia, a tornado came through town. A few days later, the executive editor was livid even though we had provided pages of coverage. He had discovered that a resident in the area had dropped off film — remember film? — showing the actual tornado. The pictures weren’t developed the first day, and, when they were, editors said they were too grainy to be of use. The exec ordered the picture to be run, even though the immediacy of the past was long past.

Today, people have a much greater ability to interact with the media. Professionals, witnesses and even a security camera have recorded the horrible events in Minnesota when the bridge collapsed. If the media don’t listen, why, there are plenty of outlets for citizens to take control.

Chip wasn’t planning on shooting a downed helicopter. He says he was driving down the Interstate 70 outer road when he saw a bunch of police cars flying the other way. So he turned around.

“Sometimes I get a feel for it and just get up and go,” Chip says. It’s not the first crash scene he’s photographed. “My wife says I have a sixth sense. I dunno.”

I do. It’s called news. And you don’t have to have a degree from a journalism school to find it.