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Dave Philipps’ great Gazette story

Tue, Jul 28, 2009

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If you missed Dave Philipps’ superb two-part series in the Gazette, “Casualties of War,” go to the daily’s Web site and read it.

It’s a thoughtful, carefully researched, and beautifully written account of the violent and terrible lives of soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, part of the Fort Carson-based 4th Brigade Combat Team. Many of them, returning from Iraq, committed crimes ranging from murder to drug dealing. In one year, Philipps notes, the murder rate for the 500 members of the unit was 114 times the rate for Colorado Springs. It’s a deeply saddening story-and one that we all need to read, if only to better understand the world we live in.

It’s the kind of story that wins Pulitzer prizes, that illuminates and informs, and that delights all of us who work for and/or love newspapers. Like “Final Salute,” Jim Sheeler’s Pulitzer-winning piece in the Rocky Mountain News four years ago, “Casualties of War” shows us what a metro daily can achieve.

Such a story takes time-lots of it. The reporter has to conduct dozens of interviews, spend months researching the piece, and finally write it. Historically, only dailies, with their vast editorial and financial resources, could fund and support such efforts.

But that time has long passed. Dailies, most of them laboring under massive debts acquired by feckless parent companies, have cut editorial staff and transformed reporters into “contentbots,” turning out multiple short pieces, blogs, and video updates every day. Great stories like “Casualties of War” once appeared frequently in Colorado metros such as the Gazette, the Denver Post, the Rocky, and in many other dailies across America.

No more. The daily newspaper culture, once so powerful and pervasive, is disappearing-and with it, the sustained and powerful investigative reporting that newspapers created and nurtured for generations.

What will remain? Blogs, weeklies, and two or three national newspapers? I don’t know-but to see Dave’s piece featured on the G’s front page on Sunday was as wonderful, unexpected, and heartening as…oh, maybe reading that the Rocky was going to resume publication.

But I’d guess that “Casualties of War” does not signal a sudden rebirth of what we thought lost. In the opening paragraph of “The Guns of August,” Barbara Tuchman’s magisterial account of the outbreak of the First World War, Tuchman described the funeral of King Edward VII.

“The muffled tongue of Big Ben tolled nine by the clock as the cortege left the palace, but on history’s clock it was sunset, and the sun of the old world was setting in a dying blaze of splendor never to be seen again.”

The old world of newspapering may never be seen again-but meanwhile, congratulations to Dave Philipps, Jeff Thomas, and the editorial staff of the Gazette. We’re happy for you-and, of course, a little envious!

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1 Comments For This Post

  1. Wynn Miller Says:

    What’s the future of news? Probably not on paper, but hopefully the fourth estate will flourish via other media thanks to outfits like these – http://www.ire.orghttp://www.propublica.org/http://www.icij.org – and hopefully local publishers will continue to cover the news regardless of the medium through which they spread the word.