Curious about something going on in Scottsdale? Beth Duckett probably knows all about it. The Scottsdale Community Watchdog Reporter for The Arizona Republic has covered a variety of topics, ranging from city politics to community events. Whether she’s keeping an eye on what’s going on in town or working on deadline to deliver accurate news to readers, she says she gets a rush out of reporting on breaking news that matters to her peers. Read on for her stand-out moments as a reporter, as well as to hear five reasons why she loves living in the Valley.
What brought you to Arizona?
I basically grew up in Maryland in a suburb of Washington, D.C., where I graduated from high school. After that, my family moved to Arizona for a job, and I tagged along partly out of curiosity but mostly for the new opportunity, plus I had heard about the top-notch journalism schools here. After a brief stint at University of Arizona, I transferred to Arizona State and graduated in 2006.
When did you first become interested in journalism?
On a whim, I signed up for a journalism class in high school, thinking it would engage my love of writing. I was right. I remember waking up and actually being thrilled to go to school — or at least second period, my journalism class. I loved designing the paper, conducting interviews and tagging along class trips as the resident journalist. Sometimes, I would get permission to leave school and cover events. Also, the long nights typing away at a desk to finish the paper before deadline were energizing to me, surprisingly.
What made you want to be a journalist?
My curiosity and love for writing motivated me. Also, I think everyone likes seeing his or her name in the paper. I know that sounds egotistical, but it’s true. There’s definitely that initial rush, knowing people actually read something you invested a lot of thought, time and effort into creating. I should add that the autonomy and flexible hours are great and fit my personality. I would hate to work a 9-to-5 job with a supervisor down my throat — now that only happens when I’m on deadline.
Tell me about the types of styles you’ve written and what you prefer and why.
I feel like I’ve had a chance to write most styles, whether it’s a profile of a business, exposé on a person or breaking news about politics. At this point in my career, my preference is for hard news, data-driven and enterprise-style stories, because I think journalists can get more exposure that way, and there is that added thrill of gathering quotes, facts and figures and integrating them into a logical, and hopefully readable, piece. Of course, there are times I miss writing a feel-good story!
What’s your typical week with The Arizona Republic like?
There is no typical week, but I suppose it starts around 9 or 10 a.m. on Monday, checking what stories I have planned for the week and making phone calls and sending out e-mails. For the Scottsdale Republic, our deadlines are in advance. A story running Wednesday typically has to be finished by Monday evening, for example. If I’m not writing at my desk, I’m usually filing public information requests, poring through records or Tweeting out story links. On Tuesday nights, I often cover Scottsdale City Council meetings, which can run several hours long. I wake up around 6 a.m. the next day to finish and file the story before deadline. I usually cover one or two other city meetings during the week, too.
What are the three biggest issues concerning Scottsdale politics, and why should Scottsdale voters care about them?
Scottsdale just wrapped up its City Council elections, so there’s not a whole lot in the pipeline as far as elections are concerned. I would say the biggest issue right now is Scottsdale’s search for a new city manager, which is basically the chief executive officer of City Hall. The last city manager resigned in July, adding to the fray of the city’s struggle in the past to hang onto a permanent city manager, often due to conflicts with council members. And the search process isn’t always quick either – Scottsdale expects to hire the next manager in the middle of next year. Then there’s always the topic of development versus quality of life, as well as a bond election that could take place next fall. Basically, voters would have to support a property-tax increase to pay for new public projects, like street paving or trailheads. This hasn’t happened since 2000. Overall, I suppose voters should care because the city manager hires and fires employees, oversees the city’s budget and pursues, or doesn’t pursue, economic development and other opportunities that can have a big impact on residents and taxpayers. If a bond election passes, voters might shell out an extra $50 to $100 a year in property taxes, but they could benefit from better roads, trails and amenities.
What’s your most memorable interview you’ve ever done, and why?
That’s a good question and hard to answer. I think the interview I remember the most, sadly, involved a fatal motorcycle crash that occurred in 2010 on the Carefree Highway. I was on one of the first reporters to make it to the scene. It’s one of my favorite areas of the Valley, and it was just overwhelming to see the impact it had on people in the community, who turned out in droves to pay their respects. I know journalists have a bad rap for invading people’s privacy, but this was a case where I was just hanging out outside and several people approached me, including a family member. We ended up developing a camaraderie of sorts. It was very depressing, but at the same time, very uplifting, to watch this outpouring of support in front of my eyes. I guess that’s what happens in moments of terrible tragedy. It changes you. It opens you up.
What’s the most memorable story you’ve ever written, and why?
Ugh, there are so many! I guess it might be a story I wrote in 2006 about Ramadan, the holy month for Muslims. I was an intern at the time, and it was one of my first major stories. If you don’t know, Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, begins with the sighting of the new crescent moon on the Western horizon. That night, I joined members from the Imam Council and the Islamic community at South Mountain summit for the annual moon sighting ritual. It was beautiful, and I learned so much about the Islamic faith. As an aside, it was also one of the first stories where my editor caught a mistake before it went to print. Needless to say, my accuracy improved after that.
What was your most challenging interview or story, and why?
Let’s just say I interviewed a famous singer who had a hit song years ago. I don’t know if she was tired or what, but I had the worst time getting her to answer questions. She would respond with one or two words, even if it was an open-ended question, and she generally seemed to be in a bad mood. Maybe I said something that offended her. Whatever it was, I managed to pull the story together, and it ended up not so bad.
What kind of advice can you translate from the journalism world to everyone else?
Learning how to write logically, coherently and for people is a great skill to have in any field. There’s nothing wrong with using big words in academia or certain professions, but journalists are here to spread information to a lot of readers. That doesn’t happen if your sentences are too long and twisted or your writing doesn’t have a rational or personable flow. Then there’s the whole grammar thing — sometimes you wonder why so many people don’t know the difference between “their” and “there.” The last thing is learning to pick up the phone or approach people you don’t know, which is always a little nerve-wracking but a crucial skill to have, I think.
Do you have any basic writing tips for people?
Try to vary your sentence length, learn basic grammar and know the proper etiquette, especially for e-mails. That’s about it, I think!
As someone who covers Scottsdale, what are your five favorite places in Scottsdale, and why?
Civic Center Mall –- sometimes I stop here for a few minutes before City Council meetings because it’s so lush and peaceful, and I love the soft rippling sound of the fountains. It’s like a little oasis in downtown Scottsdale! George Doc Cavalliere Park — the park opened not too long ago in far north Scottsdale, off Alma School Parkway, near Pinnacle Peak. It’s one of the best-looking parks in the city, despite being kind of a far drive for most residents. I hike the short trail there just to get away from everything. AZ 88 — I know most everyone loves this restaurant, but it has a special place in my heart. And the martinis are awesome. I haven’t been here in awhile, but I always love going to the Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort and Spa for after-dinner drinks while taking in the live, sophisticated music at the bar. Walking around is always a pleasure because the grounds are sweeping and beautiful. They have gondola rides, too. And Chaparral Dog Park — OK, so I don’t actually own a dog, but I have been here many times while covering stories about the park, as well as with a family member and a friend who owns a certain chug — that’s pug and Chihuahua mix. I think it’s one of the top dog parks in the state. And I love watching and interacting with the pups!
What’s your view of the journalism landscape today, and what are your predictions for it for the future? How has your career evolved with new technology?
I prefer to take a more optimistic approach than some pundits — and readers who like to commentate. For newspaper, obviously the landscape is changing, just as it did during the advancement of other mediums. As we continue to evolve into a more online format, there will always be a struggle, I think, to maintain advertising sales as they once were and find sources of revenue, such as introductions of subscription models that charge for content on both print and digital platforms. I think that’s the future, as well as using our smartphones and tablets to read the news, even in a newspaper-style format. Increasing our presence in social media is a big one. I know I’ve been trained in Twitter and Facebook and in uploading photos to the web and sending videos and other data from my smartphone, feeding into the instant news culture we’re already living in. Overall, it’s a good thing.
Why should people read a newspaper?
Depending on the news source, there can be more stories available in the newspaper versus online. However, I am a big fan of online and using my tablet and smartphone to read the news. I’ve heard people say it provides more specific access to the type of information they’re actually interested in, whether it’s sports, features or local politics. Plus, it’s more up-to-date. I love how you can read a breaking-news story online and find out what’s happening in real-time, practically.