Welcome to this week’s Reno News & Review.
This week’s cover story originally ran on Gawker.com, but we thought RN&R readers would want to see the latest chapter in a saga that has played out largely in our pages. We know as well as anybody how hard former RN&R editor D. Brian Burghart worked building Fatal Encounters, his database of people killed by police. Since leaving his position at the RN&R earlier this year, he’s devoted even more time to the project.
He started it back in 2012, and we ran a series of stories he wrote related to the project throughout 2014. Those stories and the database won some prestigious recognition from the Nevada Press Association and the Association of Alternative Newsmedia, but it was still disheartening to hear that the Washington Post had won a Pulitzer Prize for the “innovation” of imitating Fatal Encounters.
It might seem petty to argue about who developed what database first—especially when we’re talking about a subject as serious as people killed by law enforcement—but it does matter. It matters because this story illustrates how a well-heeled news organization—especially one with the established reputation that comes with breaking the biggest investigative news story of the last century—can copy other people’s ideas and still be called “innovative.” And it matters because it illustrates how difficult it can be for a plucky little independent news organization to get the recognition it deserves. And it matters because honesty matters.
It’s a little reminiscent of the music industry, where it doesn’t matter how good a band or artist is; the ones who sell records and win awards are the ones with corporate major label backing.