EDITOR’S NOTE: A look at how the news team reported the series ‘Bobby’s Choices’

The life of Bobby Brown warrants your attention.

He was just 16 when he traded gunfire with Salem police two years ago. He died on a city street.

The shooting soon faded from the headlines. Little was publicly shared about Bobby or what led to the deadly confrontation in east Salem.

Now, “Bobby’s Choices” fills in the blanks.

The three-part series by reporter Ardeshir Tabrizian published this week. Here’s what it took to produce this journalism.


Part 1: A Salem teen, put in state care as an infant, struggles with adoptive parents. He takes to the streets as violence surges in the capital city.

Part 2: Salem’s gang conflicts reached a boiling point in spring 2022, with Bobby Brown suspected of two shootings in public places downtown.

Part 3:  Bobby Brown’s life and his hopes of starting over in another state are cut short at 16 in a fatal gun battle with police.

As a small newsroom, Salem Reporter covers a lot of territory with a handful of journalists. They report daily on everything from city government to school safety to the local economy.

But the death of Bobby Brown was a calling for our team to do more.

He died as violence escalated across the community. We were determined to establish how Bobby ended up with a gun in his hand, firing at police trying to arrest him. We sought a deeper understanding of how his death figured into the safety crisis in Salem.

Ardeshir is an experienced reporter who focuses on public safety. He took the lead on our investigation.

“This story is the first to provide a lifetime of context about three of the most high-profile shootings that Salem has ever endured,” he said in a note to me recently.

The work took months. Tabrizian had to keep up with other criminal justice news. He worked away on the project – step by step, document by document, interview by interview.

His patience yielded results.

One crucial break was getting documents normally never shared publicly. Records about teenagers in trouble are protected by layers of law to keep them confidential. In this instance, Bobby’s mother authorized their disclosure.

The Marion County Juvenile Department proved an invaluable ally. The agency, under Director Troy Gregg, released records that tracked Bobby’s movement over years through the juvenile system. This was key – we could show where Bobby was, what efforts to reform him were undertaken.  

Tabrizian obtained hundreds of pages of reports from the Salem Police Department and the Oregon State Police. These provided previously unknown details about shootings involving Bobby.

Employing humility and respect, Tabrizian connected with key people who knew Bobby.

Perhaps none was more important than Heidi Fletemier, who adopted Bobby when he was a child. She talked to Tabrizian repeatedly and with unflinching candor. She shared family records about Bobby, including notes from some of his counselors.

“She introduced humanity to the story both for Bobby as a person as well as the devastating effects of his death on a mother who tried her best to steer him away from danger,” Tabrizian said in a note to me.

Another key source was AJ Gosney, a state probation officer who worked with Bobby for around two years. He had permission from the Oregon Youth Authority to talk to us.

“Not only did AJ see Bobby’s potential, but Bobby also felt comfortable discussing his hopes and dreams with AJ,” Tabrizian said. “Bobby continued to run toward danger despite AJ doing everything he could to help.”

And there is one more source worth mentioning, though we’re not identifying him. This was a friend of Bobby’s, who shared details about the final months of Bobby’s life.

“He revealed that Bobby was beginning to realize how older peers had been taking advantage of him and that he was planning to start a new ordinary life in another state,” Tabrizian said.

As the reporting came to a head, the rest of the team picked up extra work to free Tabrizian to focus on “Bobby’s Choices.” Managing Editor Rachel Alexander and reporters Abbey McDonald and Joe Siess did so because they understood Salem Reporter’s duty to bring home this special report. Their names aren’t in the byline but they share in the credit for this series.

With the reporting done and the series drafted, the most important stage of the entire project came into focus: Fact checking. At Salem Reporter, we share excerpts of drafts from important stories with those we are reporting on.

This doesn’t give anyone say over what we report. This doesn’t give any source editorial control on how their information is used. We use this practice for one purpose ­– to ensure as much as humanly possible that every fact is accurate. Our sources provide an invaluable backstop for us at this stage, especially on a project such as “Bobby’s Choices” that takes months of work.

Even then, Tabrizian took one last step to triple-check his facts. He went line by line through the entire series and matched it against his source material. This can be enormously time consuming but is one more guard against error.

I asked Tabrizian why this series was important for the community, for you, the reader.

He said the series portrayed Bobby in ways “both humanizing and at times uncomfortable.”

Many people were pulling for Bobby, people who didn’t write off this troubled teenager.

“Yet it also shows the frightening reality that Salem currently faces through the lens of Bobby’s life – that even the young son of a physician can slowly spiral out of control.”

Salem hasn’t seen this kind of local journalism in years. Honestly, the effort strained us at Salem Reporter but every journalist on the team saw the need and the value.

But let me give some credit to another group that helped make this possible ­– our subscribers. The growing number of people signing up afford us the resources to produce this kind of extraordinary reporting now too often missing from local communities. Every subscriber in a way had a hand in producing “Bobby’s Choices.” Thank you.

Now, we want to hear from you. What are your thoughts about what you read? What facts or scenes stood out? What questions emerged as you read the reporting? What do you think should happen in the community? Who should act? Send me a note at [email protected]. And if you want to reach Tabrizian directly, he’s at [email protected].

–Les Zaitz, editor, Salem Reporter

Help us do more such journalism

•SUBSCRIBE – Our readers are our primary source of revenue. Sign up for $10 a month for full access. Click HERE. (Special: 3 months for $10 to try is out.)

•CONTRIBUTE – You can put any amount you chose into the cause. Every dollar goes toward journalism. Click HERE.

•SHARE – Let your friends and those on your social networks know about Salem Reporter. Urge them to join in supporting us.

Les Zaitz is editor and CEO of Salem Reporter. He co-founded the news organization in 2018. He has been a journalist in Oregon for nearly 50 years in both daily and community newspapers and digital news services. He is nationally recognized for his commitment to local journalism. He also is editor and publisher of the Malheur Enterprise in Vale, Oregon.