Good morning. The big Made in America Festival is in just a few days’ time, and it’ll feature Philly locals Lil Uzi Vert and Tierra Whack. Further down in today’s newsletter, we talk to two of our Inquirer colleagues about how they covered the aftermath of the police shooting in Tioga by heading back into the neighborhood to get a sense of what locals were dealing with after the tense period of uncertainty and fear. Many people who spoke with our colleagues expressed frustrations with the police as much as the suspect himself.
Each week we go behind the scenes with one of our reporters or editors to discuss their work and the challenges they face along the way. This week we chatted with editor Dan Rubin and reporter Samantha Melamed to learn about the critical process of following up on stories well after the gaze of national media shifts elsewhere. Below they recount how they worked with a team of reporters to tell the story of the aftermath of the police shooting and 7½-hour standoff that captured the attention of the country.
For the both of you: In any breaking news situation of this magnitude there are plenty of follow-up questions and stories that can arise. How did this approach, from the eyes of the affected community members, come into play as you discussed next steps in coverage?
Our team began reporting a story on the neighborhood the morning after the standoff. Several reporters pitched in, assembling a portrait of the place under siege from neighborhood interviews, clippings, and public records. But this was done fast and in the heat of the moment. We wanted to return to the place several days later to show what the place was like nearly a week after the shootings with an eye toward residents’ attitudes about police. What were they before? Had they changed? What was the history there?
For the both of you: As national media turns its attention elsewhere, why should community members continue to stick with The Inquirer on these “next day” stories?
We went back when others had packed up, and we went back repeatedly and in force — four reporters knocking on doors and talking with residents who might have been fed up with media presence by now. They did strong and sensitive work.
What should readers expect next in our coverage?
That we will seek to tell as many sides to this story as possible.
Dan, multiple bylines were shared on this story. How did you handle delegating tasks with so many reporters?
It was important to pick a team and dispatch them in waves — so we wouldn’t trip over ourselves and so we would find people at different times of the day: getting ready for work, midday, after supper. We used [an instant messaging platform called] Slack to communicate as a team and file what we’d found and what we wondered in group messages that all could read. From the beginning we picked Samantha to write and the rest fed to her. A key to making it work was trusting the reporters and letting them do their thing while continuing to ask some overarching questions about how what was happening on the street reflected their history of encounters with police.
This story appears to have more possible updates to it. As an editor how do you determine the length and frequency of following up on these kinds of story lines?
We let the news dictate a lot of that. As there are developments, we talk about what makes sense for us to chase and put into context for our readers. And we’ll keep talking to the residents, many of whom we’ve established relationships with.
Samantha, how did you approach your part of the story?
The first thing I did was visit the block to get a sense for myself of what it’s like there now, a week after the shoot-out. I walked the length of it, got a feel for the place, and talked to anyone who was around about the lingering impact. My own conversations there helped me get a sense of the mood and the scope of the fallout. After that, I was able to draw on fantastic, in-depth reporting by Anna Orso, Jesenia de Moya Correa, and Valerie Russ, who got residents to really open up about their experiences and included telling, important details.
What was the most difficult part in reporting this story? Were community members open to discussing their trauma in the aftermath?
Some people were sick of talking to reporters, and others seemed to feel it could be dangerous. But many people wanted this story told. For me, the most difficult part was presenting a nuanced, balanced and responsible portrait of a community whose attitudes about law enforcement are rooted in very real lived experiences — and whose concerns are too often overlooked.
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