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In the news business, accuracy should always outweigh expediency.Smoke from the Fay Fire caused by a fatal plane crash.
As the weekend wound down, I got a phone call and two text messages in quick sequence just before 4 p.m. Sunday, July 20, all informing me of a new fire to the northwest of Sedona.

As a local, small-town newspaper, we rely on our readers to be our eyes and ears for breaking news. I thank our readers for the phone calls and emails you sent tipping off our staff about the blaze as we arrived on scene.

Residents and visitors lined Dry Creek Road, most taking photos of a fire that appeared to have spread unusually quickly despite the recent lifting of fire restrictions by the Coconino National Forest, Sedona Fire District and both Coconino and Yavapai counties.

As the first reporters on the scene, we posted preliminary information and photos from the fire on our website and Facebook.

The news took an even more tragic turn when SFD Fire Marshal Gary Johnson confirmed the cause of the fire was a downed plane. Due to the rough terrain and heavy smoke, SFD and USFS fire crews and two helicopters took nearly two hours to determine if the cause was indeed a plane or not.

In covering a tragedy like this, there is a clear distinction between the deliberative process of a print newspaper versus that of television broadcasters.

Television channels based in the Phoenix began reporting on a plane crash before officials had confirmed a crash, potentially spreading misinformation that would have been hard to reel back in had a plane not been the actual cause.

One news channel sent a helicopter north and showed footage of the “plane crash,” an hour before confirmation, but the station was actually showing viewers the Willard Fire, which had spread over 1,800 acres several miles to the east, not the small, 25-acre Fay Fire. The station also identified the area as “rough terrain,” when it was clearly the flat Coconino Plateau. While Sedona residents know the difference, TV watchers elsewhere in Arizona were misinformed.

The Willard Fire near Munds Park is the blaze which has filled our city and the rest of the Verde Valley with smoke this weekend. The lightning-caused fire was allowed to burn by U.S. Forest Service officials to clear out underbrush and keep the forest healthy in the long term, despite the irritation to those of us with allergies or breathing conditions.

Our news stories remain in print forever meaning every error is recorded. Thus, we are intensely aware of the need to be 100 percent accurate and cite official sources in our print and online stories. Four people died in the crash — their families deserve nothing less than our best effort to report the news accurately and ethically.

Even when the urge for expediency wants to override accuracy for a breaking news story, we should value being right rather than being first.


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