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?

From an editorial standpoint, we ran an editorial on Sunday arguing that the most important thing at this point was for people come together. And that wasn’t a criticism of political debate, and we certainly didn’t imply that the political debate played any role in this. With our editorial pages we’ve tried to take a very cautionary tone in terms of asking people not to assume or read into anything until we know more. On the news side we’ve tried to capture what the debate is, what’s being said; reflecting reality, which is what we do on the news side.

A lot of the discussion has focused on Arizona as a kind of microcosm of a lot of what is supposedly wrong with the tone of debate. Do you think the portrayal of the state in the national media has been fair?

Yes and no. I think it’s always fair for anyone to step back and look at everything that’s transpired in Arizona and try to represent that to their readers. Where sometimes they get a little distorted is where they engage stereotypes. I’ve read things about “the wild west.” Yes, we’re in the western part of the United States, but no, there aren’t cowboys and Indians. That’s when I think readers who may not ever come to Arizona can get distorted perception of the state. As I said, we’re the fifth largest city—we’re not as wild west as it may seem.

Still, there are cultural differences between this part of the country and other parts of the country. And I’ve lived in different regions. I think the challenge is to try and understand and then to represent those cultural differences in a fair and accurate way. Unfortunately, when a reporter who may not have that experience comes into a situation they may not have that perspective.

How do the issues you need to report on as a state or local paper differ from the focus of a national outlet? Do you have a responsibility to cover certain stories they may not?

Joel Meares is a former CJR assistant editor.