Tom Frazier: Six winners in the newsroom

Tom Frazier
Tom Frazier

Day after day, week after week, there are six folks at the Sun-Star who do a heroic job.

They are called reporters. They scramble all day long to meet the dreaded 5:30 p.m. deadline.

They each have an area of responsibility, or "beat" in newspaper terms, but quite often overlap.

"Hello, this is Jonah Owen Lamb, from the Sun-Star, I'd like a comment on..." Click.

It's not an easy job. Some people are reluctant to talk with them. Others try to manipulate the truth or prod them to write about a pet project. Their results are not always applauded.

"Hello, this is Loose Lips..." Click.

They are our eyes and ears. They are everywhere we want to be, but can't find the time.

An old pilot joke is that flying is "hours and hours of boredom interrupted by moments of stark terror." The same must be true for reporters -- hours and hours of boredom with moments of real news.

How would you like to sit through meeting after meeting -- listening to speech after speech, just to ferret out one tidbit of useful information?

At times, readers don't like what they say. They get phone calls and e-mails telling them so.

Who are the members of this Feral Dog pack? Danielle Gaines (education), Scott Jason (city of Merced), Jonah Owen Lamb (Atwater, Livingston), Victor Patton (crime), Corinne Reilly (Merced County) and Carol Reiter (agriculture and health).

The Feral Dog tag was applied by Executive Editor Mike Tharp. In his younger days, he worked at the Wall Street Journal's San Francisco bureau. There, Carrie Dolan ("one of the best WSJ writers in the entire pre-Murdoch era, he calls her), coined the term to describe Ken Wells, Erik Larson, Tharp and herself, all reporters in the bureau. Tharp thinks it's a compliment, based upon the Sun-Star reporters' "skeptical brilliance."

As a group, the reporters have over 30 years of experience at the Sun-Star. That's a bit misleading, though, because Carol Reiter accounts for almost half of that. Most of them have been there about three years. As you would expect, some have journalism degrees; others studied political science, agriculture and interpersonal communications.

As I said, Carol Reiter is the old head of the group. No, not old, just experienced. Her first job at the Sun-Star was at age 16. Besides being a reporter she's worked as an editor, a copy desk editor, in advertising and in the composing room.

For the governmental group, I asked several of their main "sources" for comments.

"Danielle Gaines does a really good job covering education, especially since she covers K through UC Merced. I really like the stories she's now doing for members of UC Merced's senior class.

"But I do wish the local economy was more robust so that education could be covered in more depth." -- Lee Andersen, Merced County's superintendant of schools.

Merced County's spokeswoman, Katie Albertson, claims the county and the paper have a good working relationship, but it hasn't always been that way.

Although she and Corinne Reilly don't always see eye-to-eye, she says "Corinne really strives to fully understand the story, which is not easy in this environment. She has a passion to get it right the first time."

Reilly is now in Iraq -- her second assignment there. She's glad to be there; one of her goals was to work overseas. She thinks the Iraq story is very important and wishes Western reporters were not leaving so quickly.

In her absence, the other reporters cover her beat. That makes the 5:30 p.m. deadline even more hectic for them.

"Scott Jason is very fair to us. He never assumes he knows the answer and is never afraid to ask questions. He's great at tackling complex and convoluted topics.

"We've received several compliments on how well he handled the recent city layoffs." -- Mike Conway, public information officer for the city of Merced.

Jonah Owen Lamb has a lot on his plate. His beat may be Atwater and Livingston, but he shows a lot of versatility. He's written articles on different businesses, Yosemite, foreclosures, the Marines at Castle and, of course, the Livingston City Council.

His writing reminds me of the role Russell Crowe plays in the current movie "State of Play." The movie centers on two investigative reporters.

The final member of the Feral Dog pack is Victor Patton, the McGruff of the Sun-Star. Unlike Lamb, he has a continuing story line -- crime. But, unfortunately, also like Lamb, he stays busy. There's no shortage of crime in Merced.

Most of the time, his stories are factual and impersonal. Not always -- his recent story on the Spitzer and Ruiz families, "Young lives altered forever in an instant," was exceptionally well written and emotional. He took a deeply sad incident and put some real people in clear focus.

There's an adage, reporters don't make the news -- they report it. They tend to be low profile and stay behind the scenes. Two of them didn't even answer my e-mail when I asked for their personal data. No, I'm not calling them out.

"Hello, this is Tom Frazier, the Sun Dog ..." Click.

Tom Frazier writes Sun Dog and can be reached at