Getting it right
In the aftermath of calamity, there are always questions.
Some of them pop up right away, some of them develop over time, all of them arise out of the human need to know how and why something happened and, in some cases, who is responsible.
From the beginning of the relentless siege of assaults on our surroundings and emotions that will forever define the Methow Valley summer of 2014, questions have been raised — some in anger, despair or bewilderment, others out of mere curiosity. Most of them have to do with how the fires were fought or, by the accounts of some eyewitnesses, were not fought.
That’s a delicate topic, complicated by the variety of circumstances and fraught with the potential for recrimination and misunderstanding. Thousands of brave, experienced firefighters worked hard to keep the Carlton Complex Fire at bay as best they could, and by every objective account that was a herculean task. An unimaginably fierce fire was eventually contained, and while more than 300 homes were lost, many were saved.
Add to nature’s cruel work the follies of man — the Rising Eagle Road Fire was caused by sparks tossed from the rim of a flat tire — and it becomes even more difficult to draw conclusions about the entire sequence of events. The post-fire floods and slides were — given the conditions and the likelihood of more storms — fairly predictable, although the outcomes were not.
Almost from the beginning, we at the News have heard the questions and have in turn been asked why we weren’t writing more about them.
The answer is simple. We don’t deal in rumors, speculation or third-hand accounts, all of which have been steadily and sometimes recklessly thrust into the community’s conversations over the past couple of months. Everything we print about the fires and their consequences has to be carefully and responsibly reported, as was reporter Marcy Stamper’s story in last week’s issue about persistent questions related to the first days of the fire.
We are more interested in being reliable than quick to judgment. That means finding and interviewing sources, tracking down (and making formal requests for) documents and records, and cross-checking information any way we can. We don’t let assertions stand on their own without trying to get a response from the parties about whom questions have been raised.
All of that takes time and persistence, and we are employing both. We expect that stories about the fires and everything that followed will command our efforts for months, if not years. We’ve identified a lot of issues we intend to explore and questions we will try to answer. And we will continue to rely on our readers’ tips about who to talk to and what questions to pose. If we don’t respond immediately, it’s not because we’re ignoring you. It’s because we are simultaneously working in a lot of directions with, as the saying goes, all deliberate haste.
While the weekly paper has been largely devoted to fire coverage for weeks now, we have learned a valuable lesson about the importance of consistent, reliable, up-to-date information that can be easily accessed. When the fires first exploded, we decided to use our Facebook page as the primary day-by-day source for all kinds of information the community (and thousands of people outside of the valley) were craving.
We posted hundreds of items, and people noticed. Our Facebook traffic has increased exponentially, and we’ve heard many compliments and “thanks” for keeping the flow of dependable information flowing. We in effect turned Facebook, along with links to our webpage, into a daily news report. We’re going to keep that effort going and make sure that topical items people should know about right away are quickly available, rather than showing up in print a week later.
We appreciate your interest and support for all of our efforts. Our first responsibility is to the community, and we won’t lose sight of that.
— Don Nelson