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The Journal gets the goods in rampage story


With a sweeping story on Sunday, June 16, the Providence Journal offered what is likely to remain the most detailed portrait of Carlos Pacheco, the 20-year employee responsible for killing three people, including himself, during a June 8 rampage that began at the newspaper's production facility.

Although it may be impossible to fully explain Pacheco's motives, the lengthy story, headlined, "Disputes, odd behavior marked gunman's final days," depicts a homebody who apparently took workplace teasing too seriously and whose behavior grew erratic after he made a less than egregious mistake at the production facility (located a short drive from the newspaper's main office) in March.

Perhaps most importantly, by making the piece the lead in the Sunday paper, and assigning newsroom veterans Tom Mooney and Jennifer Levitz to join police reporter Amanda Milkovits in reporting and writing the novelistic piece, the Journal demonstrated it wasn't going to shy from taking a hard look at the story. After some early signs of management interference in coverage (see "Rampage makes for a difficult self-examination at the Journal," This just in, June 14), this was a welcome development, as was an earlier Milkovits story based on an interview with Charles Johnson, a production employee injured in Pacheco's attack.

This scrutiny is particularly important because of the way in which the Journal ignores other stories involving the newspaper, such as a week-long National Labor Relations Board hearing in March, when an administrative law judge considered evidence of dozens of alleged violations of federal labor law by management.

The fulsome coverage of the rampage aftermath led Joel B. Rawson, the Journal's executive editor, to tell Editor & Publisher, "My instruction was that we will cover this exactly like we cover anything else. We did the job." But according to newsroom sources, Rawson was hardly pleased by questions about the paper's coverage, and there were still some areas that went unexplored by the Journal. The paper, for example, didn't specify the nature of the work relationship between Pacheco and Robert Benetti, the first person killed in the attack, although other news organizations described Benetti as Pacheco's supervisor.

On the whole, the Journal offered commendable coverage of a workplace assault involving one of its own employees -- a difficult story for any publication to tell. But given the track record since the Belo Corporation bought the paper in 1997, it would be foolhardy to expect this to signify a new commitment to an honest examination of relevant stories involving Rhode Island's dominant news organization.

Ian Donnis can be reached at idonnis[a]

Issue Date: June 21 - 27, 2002