By Don Nelson
Shot heard ’round the world
The valley went viral last week with the story about 11-year-old Shelby White of Twisp, who shot a cougar near her home after the animal had followed her 14-year-old brother Tanner to their house. We published a story, because it was indeed interesting and locally noteworthy. But we didn’t “play” it up for a lot of attention because (a) many cougars have been shot around here lately, (b) it’s not that unusual around here for kids to have guns and hunting tags, and (c) in the greater scheme of things, it’s not that big a deal — not dismissing the fact that many people don’t understand why it’s necessary or desirable to kill so many big cats.
Still, the story found its way around the world, rather explosively. The Wenatchee World did an article about the episode. The World is a member of the international news generation and distribution cooperative, The Associated Press. For the most part, any other AP member publication or broadcast outlet anywhere can pick up the story and use it — or some version of it.
And man, it went everywhere. Outside of our community, the idea that an 11-year-old would shoot a cougar to protect her home is a startling headline-maker and attention-grabber. The New York Daily News called the Methow Valley News and asked to use some of our photos that have already been published here. Sure, we said, no problem. We also sent them a copy of reporter Ann McCreary’s story.
The New York paper’s story was, shall we say, a bit hyperbolic about the whole thing, luridly casting it as a desperate life-and-death showdown in which our plucky, clear-eyed heroine saved the day by gunning down the savage beast in the nick of time. Other accounts we read from various places were wildly exaggerated, hysterically phrased for maximum tabloid impact, or just plain wrong.
The hubbub didn’t come as a surprise. My experience in the news business is that the farther a dramatic story travels from the source, the more hyped, breathless, scary and incredible it can become. Remember the last time there was an earthquake in Seattle and your East Coast relatives called to see if you were OK?
As the flurry was building, I wondered what people elsewhere must think of this untamed frontier village where young-uns have to guard the log cabin against predators. They must think we have cougars running wild in the streets. Well, I guess sometimes we do, like when a cat comes into Winthrop prowling after a deer for dinner. Still, nobody called to see if I was OK.
Ultimately, I suppose it’s amusing to see how our news travels. But as someone who is still trying to make a living in the print news business, it’s also disconcerting to see how other publications stray from credibility for the sake of a sensational headline.
Stop means stop
To the yahoo who blasted through the four-way stop in Winthrop last Saturday at about 35 mph in a crew cab pickup truck towing a big horse trailer, without slowing down: yeah, that was me honking and scowling at you. As far as I could tell, you weren’t texting or talking on your cell phone. You just weren’t paying any attention at all. It’s hard to imagine the mayhem you could have caused if there had been more traffic, human or vehicular. We only make you stop once in the whole valley. Can you manage that?