Once you do that you start coming up with various pieces of information. For example, one of the pieces of misinformation that we didn’t publish was that early on we thought Loughner was a student at Arizona State University. We very quickly called the president of the university and asked if he would help to confirm that information and provide any information about him as a student. That turned out not to be true.

You just start to run the traps on every thread. Part of his Myspace page talked about him being a student at Pima Community College, so we started tracing that down. It really unveiled some interesting information, like the fact that he was banned from the school this fall. You run every thread you can.

Did you have an advantage confirming the information you were finding given that you’re a local outlet with established sources in the city and the state?

I think so. I hope that our source-building and our connections help us, and we probably know how to get from point A to point B a little more quickly than a national media source coming in here. But Phoenix is the fifth largest city in the country and is a very competitive media market. A lot of the other media outlets in this market had similar advantages. It’s been an interesting journalistic observation, though, that The New York Times and other entities have done some great work, as is indicative of their history of doing so. But I am also very proud of the work the journalists are doing here at the Republic.

What have you made of the national coverage?

Once we got out of that initial intense situation of just trying to figure out what had happened and who was involved, yes. Since then, in publications starting on Sunday morning and in what I’ve seen on websites, there has been some very nice work being done by a lot of different media outlets looking at issues from metal health to gun rights and trying to better understand the medical situation the congresswoman faces as she recovers.

When did you start to see signs that this debate about rhetoric would be the first big national discussion to come out of the shooting?

You started seeing that on Saturday. By late afternoon, early evening Arizona time, you were starting to hear people making reference to the difficult re-election battle that Gabrielle Giffords has had against her Tea Party opponent. You started hearing comments about Sarah Palin’s website and that Giffords’s district had had the crosshairs over it. You started to hear people conjecturing about what, if any, role the political debate had played in this.

But at the same time you had people saying, ‘We don’t know enough yet,’ and, ‘We don’t know what his motives were.’ At least those were the conversations we were having in our newsroom. He’s a twenty-two year-old kid, how politically involved could he be? Is this based on some political agenda or is he just unstable mentally? You did start hearing people having that debate very early in the process.

How did you decide to handle that angle, given that the debate is a pretty national thing?

We’ve come at it in a number of different ways. In Sunday’s newspaper we did have a story about the fact that the rhetoric was starting to ratchet up and that Arizona, for multiple reasons, has been in a contentious place. We’ve had immigration issues, but we also had huge issues with the congressional town halls last summer related to health care reform. Some of our representatives had pretty vocal protests at those. So we did a story just on the fact that the political debate in Arizona is pretty intense right now—whether or not that was involved we didn’t know, but it was being talked about. Then we did a story on Arizona’s public image. The unfortunate reality is that we’ve been in the spotlight since our anti-immigration bill was signed by the governor last April. This ends up being just another kind of negative image of Arizona, and what does that mean for us? We then had another story in today’s paper about what we were starting to see Monday—how the interesting debate about the role of rhetoric and finger-pointing has turned into a lot of rhetoric and finger-pointing.

We’ve tried to come at it in a couple of different ways realizing none us know what drove this event. But we certainly want to capture what people are talking about.

So you’ve approached it as an observer but stayed out of the fray?

Joel Meares is a former CJR assistant editor.