Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Shuffling Beats at the Arizona Daily Star

Posted By on Tue, Oct 4, 2011 at 4:00 PM

As if eliminating 15 newsroom positions a couple of months ago wasn’t enough upheaval, the powers-that-be at the Arizona Daily Star have decided to make even more changes by shuffling a handful of major beats.

Star veterans Carol Ann Alaimo, Rhonda Bodfield, Rob O’Dell and Becky Pallack have all been uprooted from their respective — and well-cultivated beats — in order to put someone into what management considers a position worthy of a dedicated approach: computer-assisted reporting.

Even more surprising was the person the Star decided to put into this beat: O’Dell, who has covered city government since coming to Tucson.

The Star has previously had so-called ‘CAR’ positions in the past, most notably held by Enric Volante and Jack Gillum (who parlayed his work on uncovering local school districts’ fondness for promoting students despite failing grades into a similar database reporting gig at the USA Today and now a position with the Associated Press), but as the morning paper’s newsroom has been whittled away to next-to-nothing the last four years this beat had become part of every reporter’s responsibilities.

A novel idea: having reporters in the 21st century use computers to assist them in uncovering trends and news.

O’Dell’s reassignment caused a domino effect, which you can follow by reading the intranet posting the Star’s bigwigs put up today to explain all of the changes.

We're happy to say that we're bring back a computer-assisted reporting position, and even happier to say that Rob O'Dell will fill the position. Rob has taken it upon himself to learn about CAR, and his studies have led to some blockbuster investigations, most recently about how bailed-out banks that were supposed to help people stay in their homes instead were buying up tax leins (sic) that can force people out. Rob will work on his own investigations, but also will team with reporters throughout the newsroom on stories and projects involving databases.

Bringing back the CAR beat necessitated some other changes:

- Rhonda Bodfield will move to the city beat, where her killer sourcing and outstanding reporting and writing will translate into top-notch coverage of some of the hottest issues in Tucson right now: Rio Nuevo, the search for a new city manager, and some massive budget woes.

- Becky Pallack will move to the downtown office and take on the county beat. Becky was born a master of organization and multi-tasking, and she has become a master of alternative storytelling during her time on the UA beat. Now she'll take those skills and dig into politics, getting daily master classes from Rhonda and (downtown editor) Joe (Burchell).

- Carol Ann Alaimo will take her fine writing and investigative skills over to the UA, where she'll be both a watchdog of Tucson's largest government institution and a teller of campus stories ranging from fascinating to quirky to funny to sad.

Thanks to all for taking on these new challenges. We're excited about them, and believe they'll make the Star even better than it is today.

Alaimo had previously been the Star’s military reporter, though in the last two years she’d taken on additional beats as the paper’s lineup of reporters got smaller and smaller. Bodfield had also been covering state government for the Star, and it’s unclear if she’ll continue to do that while covering the city. And Pallack, an incredibly versatile reporter, adds the county to a laundry list of duties during her less than 10 years at the Star that includes spending a year as the high school sports editor.

[Disclosure: Brian J. Pedersen was employed at the Arizona Daily Star for over a decade before being fired in September 2010. He is currently a contributor to the Tucson Weekly.]

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