In an article called “The Speculators,” reporting done by the staff of the East Valley Tribune was so thorough, there was no room for conjecture.
Reporter Mark Flatten spearheaded the effort and wrote the story, one that combined extensive research and stellar storytelling to paint a clear picture of who really controlled the territory in Mesa, Ariz., one of the country’s quickest growing cities.
“While public records are important, they do not reveal the entire story,” Flatten said. “Stories are about people, not records. In this case, the compelling stories were about the personalities and power plays that shaped the area. Sources’ comments were just as valuable to the tale as the documents we examined.”
Even though the records may not have been more important, they were certainly more challenging to obtain. Many figures had to be entered into created spreadsheets before the numbers made sense.
“The greatest challenge was weaving through the maze of public records to document land ownership,” Flatten said. “None of the public records databases were set up to do the kind of research we were attempting: using maps and property ownership records to identify the largest landholders.
“There were many periods when the task seemed overwhelming. It was difficult to sort through the data and present it in a way that enlightened our readers without making them dizzy with the magnitude of the information.”
By filling the Mesa community in on one of the town’s most sensational secrets, Flatten created a text that was incredibly informative and, more significantly, of great social value.
“The accolades of our profession mean little if the stories we tell have no value in our communities,” said Flatten. “Therefore, it is particularly gratifying when a series that was developed, researched and written with our readers in mind is also recognized by our peers.”
In a competition full of strong entries, the work of the East Valley Tribune broke through, just as their reporters did while covering the story and encountering opposition from rich landowners and dense statistics.
“There is no perfect reason to say why, but here’s one reason: While other packages were exhaustively and admirably researched, this one stood out because of the forces at the other end in Arizona’s East Valley, deliberately trying to make sure a clear picture didn’t emerge,” said the judges. “The Tribune drilled right through that stonewall.”