Commentary: Key to quality reporting: Relationships, trust

Our journalism is local. It’s personal. It’s a civic responsibility. And it’s a result of trusted relationships built between us, our sources and our community.

Award-winning photojournalist Allen Eyestone started covering high school football games when he was a teenager, and he has spent 34 of his 57 years covering them for The Palm Beach Post.

He was making pictures on one end of the Palm Beach Central High football field on Aug. 17 when he heard screams and saw fans stampede toward him in a panic.

As they rushed his way, Eyestone rushed the other way — toward the chaos.

Two people had been shot near the other end of the field.

Eyestone photographed everything he saw: Cheerleaders screaming. One officer applying pressure to a man’s wounds. Security swarming the field.

From the publisher

Timothy D. Burke, a longtime Palm Beach County resident, has been publisher of The Post since 2009.

PHOTOS: See Eyestone’s images from the football game shooting

He interviewed one woman whose car windshield had been shattered by a bullet. He reached her before police could.

“I think she was still in shock,” Eyestone recalls.

In his camera were powerful images that would draw more than a quarter-million page views before the weekend was out.

But Eyestone couldn’t transmit his photos without his computer. In his haste to get to the shooting scene, he had left his computer in his bag, under a bench, on the football field.

Security guards had blocked off the field. They told Eyestone he couldn’t get his bag.

EXCLUSIVE VIDEO: Authorities arrive at the shooting scene

That’s when Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Deputy Darren Curci stepped in.

He recognized Eyestone from a story they worked on together recently about the Royal Palm Beach Explorers program.

Curci is one of three officers running the Explorers program for young people interested in law enforcement as a career.

Because Curci knew and trusted Eyestone, he escorted him onto the field to get his computer.

Curci knew Eyestone was doing his job, the same way police officers do theirs.

Journalists, too, are first responders. We rush in when others rush away so you know what’s going on in our community.

Full coverage of the Wellington game shooting

We are first recorders of a community’s history — and, often, Post journalists are the only ones covering events like high school football games.

Our journalism is local. It’s personal. It’s a civic responsibility. And it’s a result of trusted relationships built between us, our sources and our community.

No one knows this more than reporter Eliot Kleinberg, who has covered almost every community in Palm Beach County and also writes the weekly Post Time column on local history. No one has more pride in our community than Kleinberg, whose 31 years as a Post reporter and his relationship with other historians regularly turns up great stories.

Case in point: Kleinberg’s recent story about the 1902 murder of Richard Hone, a 43-year-old pineapple farmer.

Since The Palm Beach Post became a daily newspaper in 1916, 14 years after Hone was shot, Kleinberg had to dig into the microfilm of earlier, weekly newspapers — the Lake Worth News and the Tropical Sun — to find out who killed him.

To weave the fascinating tale of the doomed West Palm Beach pioneer, Kleinberg had the help of Post researcher Melanie Mena and two longtime sources, historians Harvey Oyer III and Ginger Pedersen.

Hone’s story never would have been told if local newspapers did not exist — or if reporters did not have sources who helped them connect the dots so we can document and preserve our community’s moments, milestones and people.

Perhaps this summer’s most poignant story of a bond between source and reporter came in June, when breaking news intern Romy Ellenbogen wrote the story of Shizuka Matsuki, who was killed June 8 when an alligator attacked her at a Broward park.

Reporters rushed to the woman’s neighborhood, eager to interview her husband, Yukio Matsuzi, and her son, Katana Sato.

Overwhelmed by grief and the onslaught of media, the two men understandably spoke to no one at first.

They read Ellenbogen’s story on the attack, however, and they appreciated the way she told it.

When Ellenbogen asked the men if they would talk to her, to tell the world about the beautiful and gentle woman they had lost, they said no at first.

She gave them time to think about it. She explained how she planned to write the story.

Father and son eventually agreed to meet Ellenbogen for an interview at a coffee shop, where they shared memories of their big-hearted, animal-loving wife and mother.

Ellenbogen’s story started this way:

South Florida was a nature preserve Shizuka Matsuki never wanted to leave.

When iguanas fell frozen out of trees during cold snaps, Shizuka would scoop them up and keep them under heat lamps until morning.

She went to turtle rescues. She bird-watched. She loved to fish, ever since she caught crayfish as a child in a river near her hometown in western Japan.

And she loved her three rescue dogs, Junior, Paco and Momo, mutts who she walked every morning in Davie’s Wolf Lake Park.

They started a foundation in her name and launched a social-media campaign, #ShizukasPlan, to raise money to build an animal shelter.

“Everything we’re doing from now on is for her,” Katana, 21, told Ellenbogen.

Because he and his father trusted The Post’s reporter, they allowed her to tell their story.

Because Shizuka Matsuki’s story was published in The Post and also widely distributed on our digital and social platforms, she forever will be known to history.

Father and son were so grateful, they drove to West Palm Beach to thank Ellenbogen. They brought two boxes of homemade chocolate chip cookies and a card with hand-drawn pictures of their three dogs – whom Shuzuka was walking when she was attacked – as well as a saki cup and a CD of her funeral’s reggae-flavored music.

They were grateful, they said, for the compassion and humanity Ellenbogen showed them.

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Post reporters not only deliver the most complete source of local news and information, but they bring this commitment and care to the job every day.

Whether we’re covering breaking news, a century-old mystery or a human tragedy, our journalism is local. It’s personal. It’s our civic responsibility. 

Timothy D. Burke, a longtime Palm Beach County resident, has been publisher of The Post since 2009.

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