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Lou Ziegler column: Reporters' competitive spirit vital to newsroom

In the United States, two daily newspapers or more are published in: a. 17 cities b. 40 cities c. 63 cities c. 87 cities If you picked "b." you're right. For reasons almost exclusively due to economics, this means that most metropolitan areas, in...

In the United States, two daily newspapers or more are published in:

a. 17 cities

b. 40 cities

c. 63 cities

c. 87 cities

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If you picked "b." you're right.

For reasons almost exclusively due to economics, this means that most metropolitan areas, including Fargo-Moorhead, have one primary daily newspaper.

Certainly we have other media competing with us when it comes to news coverage. Other regional dailies also appear at newsstands in our circulation area.

So, when someone says "You don't have any competition," I respond that isn't so.

Yet, as editor, I also believe I need to instill a sense of urgency in our reporting and to make sure we have a reputation for breaking big stories.

This puts pressure on the staff to be first; I don't believe our hard-nosed reporting staff would want it any other way.

Besides, the thrill of the chase is what makes this business fun.

I started my daily career in a two-newspaper town in Rochester, N.Y.

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I worked for the afternoon Times-Union. A few years after I left Rochester, Gannett Co., which owned both papers, folded the T-U.

The morning Democrat and Chronicle remains.

A five-foot wall with glass on top of it separated the newsrooms when I was there. About the only thing we shared was a copying machine and news library.

As a rookie cops reporter, I was surrounded by better, more experienced journalists, including three Pulitzer Prize winners.

The competition between the two reporting staffs was incredibly fierce.

I'll divulge a dark secret to show just how cutthroat "getting the story" could be.

Being the rookie, I was on the graveyard shift.

That meant starting work around 4 a.m. to make cop calls and look at police incidence reports filed overnight. My first story deadline for the afternoon Times-Union was 7 a.m.

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Yes, I got the crumbs, while the more experienced police reporter, Tony Casale, got the big projects and cushy assignments.

Casale was an all-star. He later went on to a top job at USA Today and then started an international newspaper consulting business.

In Rochester, he had several super sources, nearly all connected to local cops.

Our competition at the morning D&C included Nancy Monaghan, a crafty, tireless reporter who had amazingly good sources in the U.S. Attorney's Office and with assistant district attorneys. Monaghan, too, wound up at USA Today, earning the managing editor's job for her crackerjack work.

In Rochester, Monaghan had reporting help from Brian Rooney, Andy Rooney's son and now a West Coast reporter for the ABC-TV network.

Early one Sunday morning some 25 or so years ago, mobster Salvatore Gingello was assassinated in downtown Rochester in a car bombing. The colorful "Sammy G" was the target of a rival mob gang that tried to muscle in and take control of the lucrative local rackets, especially bookmaking and loansharking.

Since ours was an afternoon paper, we didn't publish on Sunday.

Casale and I knew we were dead meat on the story, since the Times-Union didn't come out until Monday afternoon.

Just how dead depended on what Monaghan would report in the Monday morning paper.

We wanted to even the playing field and knew the only way to do that was to get Monaghan out of the picture.

Around 7 that Sunday night Casale and I looked across the long room, past the DMZ where the copying machine was planted, and into the Democrat and Chronicle's newsroom.

We saw Monaghan working the phones.

Casale asked me to keep an eye on Monaghan, while he went outside to a pay phone and dialed the D&C newsroom.

Disguising his voice, Casale connected with Monaghan and said he was an anonymous source with some blockbuster, inside information on Gingello's death and that he'd meet her in 20 minutes at a local watering hole.

I watched as she took the bait.

Mind you, this was at night and Monaghan was working as deadline approached.

Casale's charade worked as Monaghan was out of the office for about 90 minutes -- 90 minutes that she could have done more reporting damage to us.

Why this story?

Because the same kind of excitement for getting the story and beating the competition can and does exist in a one-newspaper town like Fargo-Moorhead.

I saw it last week in a story far less glamorous than the killing of a Mafia Don.

Next week, I want to share it with you.

Ziegler can be reached at lziegler@forumcomm.com

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