Today’s Olympian showcases the second of three parts of a project on the challenges facing downtown Olympia.
It’s the kind of journalism that takes months to bring to publication and requires hundreds of hours of reporting, writing, photographing, editing and design. And during all the time that journalists are working on the project, they’re also covering day-to-day news and events because news today is not only 365 days a year, it’s 24 hours a day.
In January, we decided the identity crisis facing downtown would be an emphasis for us this year. We heard it from all over: letter writers complaining about unsafe streets and aggressive panhandling, city officials explaining cleanup programs, police officers talking about more patrols and the challenges of mentally ill offenders, business owners complaining about anti-social behavior driving customers away, social service providers trying to connect the street population with services, developers planning to build market-rate housing.
Whose downtown was it? And what was perception and what was reality?
Reporter Andy Hobbs started interviewing people. Lots of people, from all of the groups with an interest in downtown. We looked at those conversations and identified the questions they raised: How many people live downtown? How many businesses have closed or opened? How many arrests are there? What for? Is crime up or down? What services are available?
We thought about what images represented those points of view and started taking photographs.
In July there was an interview-focused first draft. Then, as more questions were answered, a longer draft. The story seemed to fit into three general areas: crime and public safety, business and housing, and social services. So we split it up to run in three parts.
More layers of editing, more rewrites, people went on vacation, other stories came and went. And then we were ready.
Part one, on crime and public safety, published Sept. 28. Part two, on businesses and housing is in today’s paper. And part three, focusing on social services, will publish Oct. 12.
Feedback has been vigorous, both on our Facebook page and at theolympian.com. The Facebook link was shared more than 80 times. Comments have supported all sides of the story.
We’re proud of this project and pleased to be able to explain the complexities of the issues facing downtown. We worked hard to get the voices of all the parties into this story. We know all the questions aren’t answered. But we hope we have clarified the debate.
As photojournalist Tony Overman noticed, we live this story almost every day as we do our jobs. It’s our town.
Thanks for reading.