“Local” means news that interests readers, not just where news occurs

By Bill Vogrin

The editor of the Pikes Peak Courier explains his decision for becoming a new member of The Associated Press.

Editor’s note: This post from Dec. 2 originally appeared on Issuu via the Pikes Peak Courier’s website. Reprinted with permission by the author.

Beginning with today’s Courier, you will see stories carrying the byline of The Associated Press, the world’s oldest and largest newsgathering organization.

It’s a proud day for me because I launched my professional journalism career with AP as a writer in the Kansas City, Missouri, bureau. I started the very day after I graduated from the University of Kansas in 1981.

I was still in school when I interviewed with Kansas City bureau chief Fred Moen. When he asked how soon I could start, I told him I would graduate on Sunday, May 18.

“OK, then you can start the 19th,” Moen said. “Come in late. Get here at 9.”

That began more than 13 years of chasing stories that ran in newspapers across the country and even, once in a while, around the world.

Funny coincidence — my close friend and one of my partners in this venture, Rich Tosches, also worked early in his career for a wire service … United Press International, or UPI. (At AP, we always referred to UPI as “Brand X.”)

Anyway, Rich and I have often compared war stories and we both enjoyed great adventures working for the wires.

Perhaps my proudest achievement with AP was revealing how Colorado was illegally taking water out of the Arkansas River and denying Kansas its legal share.

In 1985, in response to my reporting, Kansas sued Colorado, alleging the state was illegally diverting water and violating a decades-old compact written to protect senior water rights in Kansas.

A decade later, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously that groundwater pumping in Colorado had illegally diverted millions of gallons of water from the Arkansas River watershed that rightfully belonged to Kansas. Colorado paid Kansas more than $34 million in damages. Wells were capped or metered and a crackdown began.

I was mentioned in Time magazine for my coverage and I was proud my reporting helped the residents of Kansas whose wells had run dry and the farmers whose crops had withered in the absence of the river water for irrigation.

Those stories showed me the power of journalism beyond just informing or entertaining readers. We have the ability to help people with our writing. And that’s what I’ve tried to do my entire career.

But informing people is also important and that’s how we’ll use AP copy in the Courier, now that I’m a member on the receiving end of the AP wire. (The “wire” nickname dates to its founding as a news service that relied on telegraph wires to transmit stories to member papers.)

An Associated Press printer case and stand sit in the middle of the office of The Tri-Lakes Tribune in Monument, Colorado, and are prized souvenirs of Editor Bill Vogrin’s early career as an AP reporter in Missouri, Kansas and Illinois. (Photo courtesy of Bill Vogrin.)

You may be wondering if this signals some sort of shift from our motto that “community matters” and our vow to be laser-focused on local news.

Let me tell you emphatically: Absolutely not.

The way I see it, anything is local news if enough people putting down three quarters for the paper are interested in the subject or it impacts their lives in some way.

There is local news happening all over the state and even the country. For example, we’ll better be able to cover developments in crimes that occur to Teller County residents in other parts of the state or country.

That applies specifically in the case of a woman who died while skydiving last week in Arizona.

The Arizona Republic covered the case in detail. Thanks to our AP affiliation, we’ll now be sure to catch any updates.

We also have an acute interest in the outdoors, the national forests, the Colorado General Assembly, state government in general and much more.

With our AP feed, we’ll be able to track more closely bills of keen interest to our readers as they move through the Legislature. We’ll watch for transportation funding bills that might result in construction on Highway 24, for example. Or legislative mandates related to school curricula and testing. Or oversight of mines. There are lots of examples.

The way I see it, anything is local news if enough people putting down three quarters for the paper are interested in the subject or it impacts their lives in some way.

I’ve already set up an automatic search for topics such as marijuana to track the latest news related to pot around Colorado and the nation. Other searches will deliver me stories related to mining, military retirees, senior issues in general, skiing and more.

Maybe you have some suggestions for things I need to track on the wire for possible publication in print.

I’m not interested in using AP to duplicate news you’ll hear on TV at 6 o’clock or on your home page. I’m thinking more obscure stories precisely targeting our readers.

As always, feel free to give me a shout and share your thoughts.

And pardon me while I sit and grin a moment and savor the notion that I’m now a full-fledged, card-carrying AP member.

Bill Vogrin

Bill is the owner, editor and neighborhood columnist of the Pikes Peak Courier and Tri-Lakes Tribune, and has covered the Pikes Peak region since 1994.

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