At the Helm: Pilot readers’ contributions

By Scott Graves, Pilot staff writer March 19, 2011 05:00 am

I’ve always considered readers of the Curry Coastal Pilot “co-owners” of this newspaper.

This was proven the day of the March 11 tsunami and the following days as readers called, emailed or walk into our office with photos, videos and information to share with us.

At the same time, computer-savvy readers contributed to the community discussion by posting comments on our Facebook page, where we published up-to-date videos and news reports.

While a majority of material in the Pilot is written by journalists, columnists and editors, we frequently publish contributions from our readers. It’s what makes the Pilot a “community” paper.

However, now, more than ever, the Pilot is dependent on reader involvement. Our news staff has shrunk in recent years because of the lousy economy, leaving us with less people to provide the content that readers expect. Tough decisions are made every day on what assignments to cover. Unable to report on many things, we often ask readers to take photos and submit them with information. Many do that, providing us a means to get the information out to the public.

Here a few other ways that readers can contribute:

•Write a letter to the editor and share your opinion about a community issue or information about a special event or personal experience.

•Visit our website, music blog and Facebook page and send or post questions, concerns and comments. When submitting information, please include the five Ws: Who, what, when, where and why.

Readers play an essential role in this newspaper and have done so since it was first published in 1946. I am happy to continue that tradition. This is the community’s newspaper and we are grateful for the sense of ownership that many of you have for the Pilot. Thank you.

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I usually don’t get phone calls at home at 2:15 a.m. But I did, on Friday, March 11. It was Curry County Sheriff John Bishop calling to let me know that a possible tsunami from the Japan quake was heading toward our coast. He knew the Pilot could post something on our website and send out email news alerts to nearly 2,000 of our readers (which we did).

I thanked Bishop, hung up and turned on the television news. The video of the quake and subsequent tsunami that demolished the Japanese coast was stunning. Could that happen here? Should I wake my wife and child? Should I alert my sleeping neighbors?

Bishop said the tsunami heading for Brookings could be as high as 7 feet – miniscule compared to the 30-foot waves that wiped out entire villages in Japan, but still a threat. He was waiting to hear reports from Hawaii before deciding whether to trigger the tsunami sirens countywide.

He called me back at 3:45 a.m. saying he would sound the alarm at 4 a.m. I woke up my wife, dressed and headed for the Pilot office. I knew then I was in for a long, exciting day – Friday is production day and it’s not uncommon for myself and other newsroom employees to work 10 hours or more to get the next day’s paper out. I returned home that day at 10:30 p.m., 20 hours after getting the sheriff’s wake-up call.

Adrenaline of covering such a major event kept the newsroom staff going through most of the day. I’m sure it was the same for Bishop, members of local law enforcement and fire agencies, the U.S. Coast Guard, port crews and the boat owners who watched the sea toss their vessels about like toys

What a day. I salute each and everyone who responded and helped out. I am proud to live in such a wonderful community.