Covering Charlie Sheen: Scrappy Aspen reporters key to the story, but often overlooked

As aggregated news and poorly sourced blogs permeate an industry once driven by a dying breed of scrappy local journalists, the little guys at the heart of the big story are often forgotten -- or worse, just plain robbed.

But Rick Carroll, managing editor at The Aspen Times and one of the traditionalists working on the ground of the Charlie Sheen drama, says its just the job.

"TMZ can have all the hookers and hot tubs story all they want," Carroll says of Aspen's Charlie Sheen beat. "We're not going to worry about if he's hooking up with prostitutes, or group sex or any of that. We're interested in the court proceedings."

The Aspen Times, in a way, is a microcosm of what journalism was in its heyday. They're in daily competition with The Aspen Daily News, which has a reporter of its own following the Sheen-anigans.

And many of the town's reporters have gone back and forth between the two, including Carroll who covered John Denver's DUI and Hunter S. Thompson's death for the Daily News before making his way the Times. And the newspaper war there, like Denver's until last year, means better local coverage all around.

But in the information age, the first chick to tweet gets the worm -- and local operations are no exception. That leaves small-town editors at the epicenter of a national story weighing the value of a competitive print product in town the next day versus a nod in, say, the latest Sheen watch update on "Inside Edition."

"We're still trying our best to keep relevancy in our print product," Carroll says, though he admits his scoop earlier this month that Sheen was working to reach a deal to work at Theater Aspen as part of his sentencing went online first.

"I did make a point to put that up Friday night around nine o'clock," he adds. "I heard that TMZ was going to beat us. For a while there, they were covering every left and right turn he was making. We can't spend all our resources worrying about what Charlie Sheen is doing."

Between fighting the celebrity vultures whose flash and gossip requires little true reporting and striving to one-up the daily rival paper, there's little time to mend the wounded reportorial ego.

"It would be nice to get credit for these things," Carroll admits. "I think we deserve credit if we break something ... I've gotten so used to us not getting credit universally that it doesn't bother me that much."

Regardless of who nabs the credit and where the latest tidbit ends up, most of the news you've seen in this latest celebrity snafu originated from real reporters, using old-school news gathering -- things as archaic as spending the afternoon at the courthouse (which is about ten steps away from the newsroom there) and getting the documents first hand.

"I enjoy scooping the tabloid press because they live for this, and we're out there covering school board meetings and things like that," Carroll says. "So there's a little satisfaction in scooping them on celebrity news."

Eat that, TMZ.

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J. David McSwane
Contact: J. David McSwane