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Cannon story must be told


It was a bit of a push for me to open my Internet browser last Wednesday, the day the paper came out. I figured our news team would be praised and skewered in near equal measures for our story, “Cop shootout rocks neighborhood,” which ran across the top of the Jan. 23 News-Times’ front page as the banner headline.

Some would complain that we under-reported the story about an off-duty Hillsboro policeman who is in jail on a charge of attempted aggravated murder in the aftermath of a 9-1-1 call at his Forest Grove home Jan. 20.

Why didn’t we just come out and say Timothy Cannon is accused of trying to kill a county sheriff’s deputy? How come details about the couple’s marriage, or other clues about what could have set Cannon off that night, weren’t included? How could 10 trained police officers fire shots and not hit anybody?

Others would chide us for over-reporting it, suggesting that — for the sake of the family’s privacy or to hold the line on an increase in media reports about gun violence in recent weeks — we shouldn’t have run the story at all. Though overt reactions to our initial story have been few (there's a follow-up story on the front page of this edition as well), one reader argued on Facebook that media outlets have "sensationalized" the incident, and that our paper should at least have withheld the name of Cannon’s wife. I responded that we identified Lisa Cannon primarily because she is a key member of the Forest Grove Police Department’s staff, and leaving her name out of our story would have invited more questions than it answered.

As Forest Grove’s newspaper of record for 126 years, we try very hard to mind our community’s business and reflect it back the public. Once the crush of our deadline has passed each week, I have certain expectations of myself as a reporter and editor. Self-reflection is one of them.

The Cannon story needed to go in the paper, and it needed to be on the front page. Still, this is a story no community journalist — philosophically that is what we are, community journalists — relishes reporting, because it's a tragedy that took place in the heart of a community we love.

It's also an intensely human tale. It involved a Forest Grove family. It affected officers in this city's police department. Its impact can be felt across Washington County.

At least a couple times a month I’m asked where the News-Times gets its ideas for stories. We write “hard” news, such as the Cannon story. We write “soft” news, such as a grand opening or a fair at a grade school. We write features, like Jill Rehkopf Smith’s wonderful tale about a 73-year-long marriage, which also ran on our front page last week.

Sometimes, our ideas come by way of email or a chance meeting with a community member at the local Safeway. Other times people stop by our office and suggest we consider covering something. In the case of the Cannon story, it came from an anguished 5 a.m. text message on a cell phone.

We are not, nor do we pretend to be, the all-seeing, all-knowing, single-handed purveyor of the truth. The best we can do is to arrange and present the information we gather within an appropriate context built from institutional knowledge and instinct.

In the coming weeks, we will continue to follow the Cannon story. We’ll pursue public records; we’ll talk to sources. We’ll ask the tough questions and hope they are also the right ones. More stories about this matter will be in the paper, because the community has a right to know about a public agency responding to a frantic emergency call in which two police officers are injured and after which 11 are placed on leave from their jobs (including the suspect).

But our readers can be assured that we will do our best to handle this story seriously and with due consideration. We will strive to be accurate, thorough and responsible.

I don’t remember learning in journalism school that the two sharpest tools in my professional bag of skills would turn out to be curiosity and compassion. But after 30 years in the community journalism business, that is mostly what reporting has come down to, the Cannon story included.