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How a Seattle Times reporter broke the Boeing story

March 19, 2019

Posted by Chris Roush

Dominic Gates

Joe Allsop of Columbia Journalism Review writes about Seattle Times aerospace reporter Dominic Gates and his dogged reporting of Boeing.

Allsop writes, “In the days after the incident, Dominic Gates, an aerospace reporter at The Seattle Times, learned from a source that Boeing, which has a huge presence around Seattle, was preparing to warn airlines of a possible instrument failure that could tip 737 MAXs into dangerous dives. Gates continued to report on potential problems with the model. What he found out was extraordinary. Managers at the Federal Aviation Administration let Boeing safety-test features of the 737 MAX itself. And current and former Boeing engineers familiar with the checks told Gates they had major flaws.

“On March 6, Gates sent requests for comment to Boeing and the FAA outlining his findings about a flawed safety assessment. Boeing said it would work on providing answers. Then, on March 10, another 737 MAX, this time operated by Ethiopian Airlines, crashed six minutes after lifting off from Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital. Boeing quickly found itself at the center of a global media storm. Countries around the world grounded the planes; last Wednesday, the US, belatedly followed suit. Around the same time, Gates finished writing his piece about the flawed safety check — but Boeing and the FAA had still not commented, and the links between the Lion Air and Ethiopian crashes remained murky. On Thursday, Gates and three colleagues learned about, then reported, a potential similarity between the incidents based on evidence found at the Ethiopian crash site and relayed by an expert. On Friday, Gates finalized the safety-test story he’d been working on since last year, and it was published on Sunday.

“Like many local news reporters in the US, Gates — a former math teacher who is now in his 16th year with The Seattle Times — works a beat dedicated to a dominant local company or industry. ‘To survive as a regional paper, The Seattle Times has to offer readers news it cannot get elsewhere,’ Gates tells me in an email. ‘Since this is the home of Boeing, Microsoft, Amazon and Starbucks, it strives to own coverage of those mega corporations. Coverage of Boeing has historically been huge for The Seattle Times.'”

Read more here.

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