Pensacola, Florida
Saturday December 16th 2017

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Outtakes—Reporting News

By Rick Outzen

At the White House Correspondents’ dinner, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein addressed the audience. The two are best known for uncovering former President Richard Nixon’s involvement in the Watergate scandal.

The pair lived through personal attacks as Nixon tried to make the conduct of the press the issue in Watergate, instead of the conduct of the president and his men.  How did the reporters respond to the pressure?

“We tried to avoid the noise and let the reporting speak,” Bernstein told his fellow journalists.

When asked over the years to describe the purpose and methodology of their reporting, Woodward and Bernstein called it the “best obtainable version of the truth.”

“It’s a simple concept, yet something very difficult to get right because of the enormous amount of effort, thinking, persistence, pushback, logical baggage and, for sure, luck that is required, not to mention some unnatural humility,” said Bernstein.

He added, “Underlying everything reporters do in pursuit of the best obtainable version of the truth, whatever our beat or assignment, is the question ‘what is news?’ What is it that we believe is important, relevant, hidden, perhaps, or even in plain sight and ignored by conventional journalistic wisdom or governmental wisdom?”

Then Bernstein shared two elements of reporting that he learned from his partner, Bob Woodward. Both components are at the heart of the investigative reporting on this weekly newspaper.

“Almost inevitably, unreasonable government secrecy is the enemy, and usually the giveaway about what the real story might be,” he said. “And when lying is combined with secrecy, there is usually a pretty good roadmap in front of us.”

Bernstein added, “Yes, follow the money, but follow, also, the lies.”

When officials make it difficult to get public records or they and their department heads refuse to answer questions, then that is the direction Inweekly begins to dig.

And the effort is always rewarded with a solid story, whether it’s the expensive, failed turnaround of Warrington Middle School, the explosion of the Escambia County Jail, or undisclosed payouts and excessive turnover in the mayor’s office.

The pursue of the best obtainable version of the truth can take time.  The Warrington Middle School story took over a year to complete. We waited six months for the ATF reports that validated our reporting on the jail blast.

And Pensacola City Hall is a special case where obtaining a morsel of truth is like panning for gold.  You want to shout “Eureka” when you get it.

We are grateful for the standards Bernstein and Woodward have set for our profession. We will continue to strive to live up to their examples.