Friday, February 13, 2009

The tenacity of the reporter

Nathan Comp, writing in yesterday's edition of Isthmus, broke a story wherein new details about the disappearance of Amos Mortier were brought to light. A freelance writer who recently moved from Madison to Philadelphia, Comp got his hands on grand jury testimony related to the case and decided that some of the facts revealed therein didn't quite mesh with the official story given by law enforcement. It basically states that a suspect allegedly admitted to killing Mortier, but that Fitchburg police never really followed up on that lead.

It's compelling stuff. And though it's hard for any of us to yet say exactly what the truth of the story is, these new details do beg to be more thoroughly investigated.

What's really interesting about all of this to me, though, is the skepticism with which a Wisconsin State Journal reporter, Ed Treleven, wrote about Comp's article - and, too, the fact that all of this is based around a marijuana ring. I still have a hard time believing that, in this day and age, we still so demonize that particular plant*.

Comp has since posted an open letter in response to the WSJ article, and I suspect won't be letting the overall issue drop until the truth really does come out. Which is exactly the kind of attitude we, as a society, should expect out of our journalists.

Jason Shepard displayed this same fighting spirit when he doggedly covered the 911 center's bungling of the Zimmermann call and the problems with the Joel Marino murder case. And there are countless other relatively unsung heroes of journalism, too, out there every day trying to get at the real stories so that more people can be made aware of what's really going on in their world.

Unfortunately, they're not in the majority, nor are they generally given as much space in the more mainstream press. Add to that the current crumbling of various media outlets and the environment isn't exactly great for hardhitting journalism.

I try to do my part to help, but I'm hardly the best or the brightest out there. So it's always comforting to come across reporters who are still working hard, even in the face of increasingly tough odds, to get important information out to the masses. Whether or not the details relayed by Comp come to fruition, the service he and others like him provide are essential to maintaining an informed citizenry, and to keeping our public officials honest.

Perhaps most important of all, too, they can sometimes help to bring a little bit of peace to people like Mortier's mother, Margie Milutinovich, who is still just trying to find out what happened to her son.

*I could, and may still, write a whole other post about how ridiculous our country's policy toward marijuana is, and how de-criminalizing it could seriously help in reducing prison populations, assisting people with legitimate medical issues, bringing in more tax revenue, and providing a more eco-friendly resource for the construction of a whole slew of products.


K-Tizzle said...

Thanks Emily. That was nicely put. =) Katie

3rd Way said...

*I could, and may still, write a whole other post about how ridiculous our country's policy toward marijuana is

please do...

George H. said...

I think that attacking a reporter personally because he or she didn't write what you want written is misdirection, at best. It happens every so often in the world of journalism. From a literary point of view, that strategy is transparent. If Nathan's got the goods, go with it, but when you hang a tale on a "fed to the pigs" comment from a source even you consider dubious, you have to expect some, um, skepticism. It's fun to read, and I can't think why I would leave that out of the story - in fact that's a great detail, because it shows the lengths some are willing to go - but don't go shaking a tree without expecting some apples. (I admit that, as a boy, being "fed to the pigs" was a frequent threat from numerous authoritative sources.) Having watched this story play out over the years, I'm not sure I believe any of the players, which is why attribution in these sorts of articles is so important. What did they say before and how has it changed? You look for motive and you look for money, and when you eventually decide to lay it out, you take the good with the bad and don't whine about it. If it's a tale of different sources, then you consider the motivation of the sources. Every reporter is different that way. Emily has chided me in days of old for making things personal, and I have reformed, so I am a little surprised you latch on to an unsupported attack, and I am even more surprised that Nathan now considers himself to be a source of truth, instead of a channel. That moves him to player status, and then more motives have to be questioned. When grand jury testimony starts counting for absolute truth, then the system is even worse off than I suspect.

A note: I work with Ed, who covers up to a dozen courts daily, alone. I'm sure Nathan has access to earlier coverage of grand jury and related court news on this topic. He would be a fool - and he's not - not to have immersed himself in prior coverage, including Ed's.
It's always better for more spoons to be stirring the pot, and there are those who are probably pleased the focus is on the messengers, rather than the story.

George H. said...

One more thing.
All of which unfortunately obscures a great crime story, the sort of which I am an avid reader, and which Nathan does a helluva job reporting, organizing and writing. (Not easy.)

Emily said...

KT - Thank you!

3W - Workin' on it. ;)

George - Regardless of whether or not I always agree with you, you sure are good at bringing up some thought-provoking points. I appreciate that.

I hope I didn't come off in this post sounding like I was being super critical of Ed himself. My only minor beef was that the article seemed so dismissive of Comp's piece. I see a difference between being dismissive and being critical - the latter an important part of good journalism, the former less so. It's entirely possible I misread, but that was my initial feeling.

You're right, of course, that the more important story here is the crime itself, and not who's writing about it. This post was more to take a moment to say thanks to those reporters still out there pressin' bricks to get at the truth. Comparing the importance of that to the importance of this particular story is apples and oranges.

I do hope that there is continued focus on the real players in all of this, though, so that hopefully justice can eventually be served.

Wise1 said...

Having spoken to people who have been "interviewed" by Isthmus reporters, and in their words "article twisted everything I told the interviewer" I have learned to take anything that the Isthmus reports with a "grain of salt." A really large one. I would actually like to see some independent information regarding the case.

Emily said...

Wise1 - Nathan Comp is an independent source, as he doesn't work for Isthmus but is instead a freelance writer. But it's fair to look for more information about the story, and I'd encourage you to share it should you find some.

The Lost Albatross