A common misconception about the newspaper is that it knows everything. Some speculate that if something isn’t published, it is by conscious and sometimes conspiratorial choice. Oh to have the burden of possessing too much knowledge. Alas, the less exciting truth is that the Rocket-Miner is staffed by mere mortals, and thus is susceptible to the normal limitations and imperfections of humanity.
If a story is to appear in the paper, reporters have to learn about it first. God bless the people who call or email us about upcoming events, preferably a comfortable number of days in advance. Credit is also due to government workers who post meeting minutes and recordings, club officers who submit articles, proud relatives who share family achievements, prolific posters on social media, die-hard fax users, letter to the editor writers, and gossipers who loudly share the latest developments. They all play an important, underheralded part in bringing news to the attention of the public.
Occasionally a story falls into our lap, like when one drives by an accident, floodwaters pour into downtown (and our basement) or when the lights blink off in a power outage, but even then getting the story out requires teamwork as we look to government officials, public information officers, educated experts and impacted individuals to present the full picture.
Reporting a story is like putting together a line of dominoes, and collaboration is an invaluable part of the process. Tipsters provide the framework to get started and start building. As the story is assembled, writers will turn to additional sources to add more blocks like details and context. We want to provide a solid narrative in the form of the who, what, when, where, how and why.
A breakdown occurs when there are holes in the record or people refuse to cooperate. If information is concealed, or viewpoints aren’t shared, the storytelling will suffer due to the gaps.
As the week comes to an end, we see incomplete stories; not because questions weren’t asked of knowledgeable sources, but because the truth wasn’t immediately forthcoming. It’s been days since the Rock Springs City Council meeting, and we’re still missing details.
— What is the newly increased salary of City Director of Engineering and Operations Paul Kauchich? It’s somewhere between $137,239 a year to $171,393 a year, but we want something more specific than a $34,000 window.
Mayor Tim Kaumo declined to be more precise than saying it would be in the middle to upper end of the range. While the mayor said the pay grade raise was effective immediately, the Rocket was told requests for the amount and contract were denied because the city is still working out the details. Does that mean the city approved a salary without knowing what the total would be?
— What is being said behind the scenes in the power struggle between council members and the mayor? As city departments are reorganized, an ordinance was drafted to reflect the changes stemming from eliminated positions and reassigned responsibilities. On March 5, the day the ordinance was expected to pass third reading, Councilman Tim Savage added an amendment. It still allowed the mayor to grant raises to those doing extra duties, such as Kauchich, but it set a limit so the City Council would have a say if the increased workload and compensation lasted 90 days.
The amendment passed 6-3, but the ordinance was then tabled for a meeting for the council and city attorney to give it additional review. On March 19, the revised ordinance passed 5-4. On Tuesday, the mayor vetoed the ordinance. When the council had the chance to overturn the vote, which would have required a two-third majority, the motion died for a lack of a second.
How did the council go from supporting an ordinance 6-3 to letting the veto go unchallenged 8-1? Little was said in public meetings about the council’s motivations for the vote. Some responded to Rocket-Miner questions to explain their thoughts, but a lot more must have happened out of the public eye to lead to such a noteworthy reversal.
— What’s going to happen next? In addition to perseverance and cooperation, some stories need more time to crack. We expect this is going to play out over months and maybe years. In the meantime, we hope the parties involved are more transparent as the story unfolds.
Leaders should remember they are to use their personal positions to enrich the public, and not the other way around. While politicians publicly profess their commitment to the community, look more closely. Compare their words and deeds, and you may see they have another loyalty.
When elected officials withhold information that the public needs to be informed, it makes us question what else they are trying to hide. Whether they are posing an obstruction through silence or omitting important details, this behavior demands increased scrutiny. If the press finds it difficult to get direct, honest answers, we worry that individual residents will have greater troubles because they lack a platform to voice grievances and don’t buy ink by the barrel.
We are going to keep asking questions on behalf of the public. Not only is it our job, but it’s our calling. People can help by adding their voices to the crowd demanding the truth. Individually we can only get so loud, but a unified chorus can amplify the message to hold the powerful accountable and make sure decisions are made in the sunlight.