The Story Behind A Story

How do reporters find those stories that are far away and not on their beat? Sometimes they just read e-mail from "real people" — and then follow up and chase it down.

That's how CBS News correspondent Sharyl Attkisson's first installment of a week-long "Evening News" series last night, "Crisis Check," started. We spoke with Allyson Taylor, an "Evening News" producer based in Washington, D.C., who told us how the story unfolded.

It began when a CBS News correspondent received an e-mail from an acquaintance who said that her brother was one of a group of firefighters who had responded to a request from FEMA asking for volunteer rescue workers to assist in the Katrina recovery effort. Upon their arrival, the firefighters discovered that they would be doing nothing more than handing out pamphlets and were specifically instructed to call 911 in any emergencies. They were provided with hotel accommodations and a food allowance while, according to the e-mailer, their communities back home went without their services.

The correspondent forwarded the e-mail to Jim Murphy, executive producer of the Evening News, who sent it on to investigative correspondent Sharyl Attkisson. Attkisson forwarded the email to Taylor. "We decided that the story, if it proved to be true, would be a perfect first installment for the series," said Taylor.

Attkisson and Taylor began researching the story from Washington, D.C., by contacting CBS affiliates and communicating with the producer on the ground in Louisiana, Jason Sickles. "Tips began floating in, mostly from affiliates in Atlanta, which was the hub where most of the workers were being taken in," said Taylor. They soon discovered that many other firefighters and emergency workers were being sent to various locations and doing nothing more than handling "community relations," such as handing out pamphlets. The Associated Press also ran a short story on this out of Atlanta on Sept. 6.

Taylor eventually got in touch directly with two firefighters who relayed their experiences. She stayed in touch, tracking them for several days to remain informed of their daily assignments and ended up interviewing them for the segment. Sickles began shooting initial footage in Louisiana and arranged an interview with the New Orleans fire chief, whom Attkisson interviewed Sunday.

Stories come from all kinds of sources, and this timeline is an interesting look at the evolution of just one.