At the end of last week, law enforcement agencies from across Chippewa and Eau Claire counties met to discuss providing security for a visit from Vice President Mike Pence.
I learned of that meeting early last Monday morning and learned Pence was expected to appear at J&D Manufacturing in Altoona. Obviously, this was a big story. Regardless of your opinion on President Donald Trump or Pence, a visit to the Chippewa Valley is major news.
However, there ultimately wasn’t a story about Pence’s visit in Tuesday’s Leader-Telegram.
It should have been an easy enough story to write -- I could have written what I knew of his visit, gotten quotes from top area Republicans about why they were excited he was coming, and spoken to area professors about the importance and meaning of his trip to western Wisconsin.
But in the end, the decision was made that it just wasn’t worth writing in advance just to have that one-day scoop. Law enforcement didn’t want to speak on the record about the visit, and top area Republicans were cautious too. J&D Manufacturing’s spokesperson didn’t return multiple calls for comment.
Consider the possibilities:
• I write the story with what I knew. The event goes on as planned, and I get kudos for breaking the story.
• By releasing news of his visit early, with the concerns from the law enforcement agencies, I feared it could actually cause Pence’s visit to be canceled. Clearly, with concerns in China, Russia, North Korea, Venezuela and Iran in the news, safety of the vice president is heightened. I thought heavily about this last Monday, about how releasing this news too early could lead to changing plans. I would feel awful if a story would have denied the Chippewa Valley this historic visit.
• An even worse possibility is that the visit goes on as planned, but because his visit was leaked early, his safety would have actually been compromised. There is a reason the announcement of his coming was delayed as long as possible.
• The person who tipped me off probably shouldn’t have mentioned it. I didn’t want to get that person in trouble for saying something to me. And the risk of losing the individual as a source for getting this information out a day early just wasn’t worth it.
The public mocks journalism ethics, but I deal with them nearly every day. I make the choice on a routine basis of how many details to include in a court story, particularly when the victim is a child or it is a sexual assault. As a reporter, I would hate to have my story somehow cause a major event like Pence's visit to fall through. While I always want the scoop, sometimes it is just worth it to wait, even if it means another media outlet winds up reporting the story first.