One of the best parts of writing for GateHouse Newsroom, aside from occasionally getting to play Pokemon Go, is the incredible amount of innovative and creative storytelling we get to see firsthand coming out of GateHouse Media newsrooms.

Candi HillThat’s exactly how we felt when we saw a recent print package in the La Junta Tribune-Democrat, which was a informative reaction to an increasing number of counterfeit bills found in the area. Editor Candi Hill’s piece is a wonderful example of not only excellent newsroom planning, but also of how her three-person newsroom localized a well-documented national issue. We asked her about her process for putting the piece together and how other newsrooms can replicate the piece in their own areas.

GateHouse Newsroom: What was your inspiration for the piece? Have you guys done past coverage of instances of counterfeiting in your area or is this a newer issue that you are breaking to your readers?

Candi Hill: ​We had noticed in the blotter that the local police department had picked up a few counterfeit pieces here and there, which isn’t unusual. But then it started to spread into other neighboring cities and counties and we noticed an increase in activity. Right after contacting the local police department about doing a story, they had a pretty big bust and the story developed from there.

GHN: What was your planning process for the piece like? You have some excellent use of images that accompany your coverage, how did you come to a decision about how to best use these graphic elements?

CH: Although general information about how to spot fakes is available through the government, after the local bust, we thought it was important to recognize those pieces specifically-tied to our area. We worked with the police department to get all of the information that we needed. The team at the [Center for News & Design] then did their magic and made the page look great.

BillsGHN: What did your research for the piece look like in terms of resources and time you spent getting all of your information?

CH: ​We spent about a week gathering all of the information. The police department provided the specific images and information about the local counterfeit bills. The struggle was getting clerks at convenience stores and store owners to discuss the issue. There were about six local businesses that had reported counterfeit bills within a two-week period. Of course, they didn’t know until they deposited the money and by then, it was too late to really do anything and they were out the money. When we approached them, many said they were too embarrassed to even discuss it. They couldn’t believe it had happened to them. That was another reason we felt it was important to get the information out there. I think we all believe we would be able to spot a fake. But in reality, it’s a lot harder than we think.

GHN: Do you have any advice for other newsrooms that might like to replicate your piece in their own coverage areas?

CH: ​If you run police blotters, be on the lookout for recurring crimes – such as distribution of counterfeit bills. That’s a great resource for finding topics you can use to expand into complete stories, especially in smaller newsrooms.

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