The coronavirus pandemic is dominating headlines, generating stories on issues touching nearly every aspect of lives.
Reports addressing the health and safety of citizens are obviously center stage. At the same time, the pandemic has spawned a range of stories focusing on our worksites – the places we earn a paycheck as employees and purchase products and services as consumers. Business lockdowns and restrictions have redefined commerce and reshaped daily routines.
A fire chief was suspended without pay after taking his nephew, and another firefighter off his shift, for a joy ride on the city’s fire boat. The city agreed to not voluntarily report the disciplinary action to the newspaper.
When is the last time readers said they were misquoted in a story? Or called to say they’re pleased with a story but irritated by a headline? Or took issue with how their ideas and statements were presented in a story?
What’s the impact of a legislative budget-balancing bill on local schools? How will a proposed change in the market value of commercial/industrial property affect city taxes on residential parcels? Will a proposed constitutional amendment on transportation funding pit metro vs. rural interests?
The race among states to be first in selecting presidential candidates guarantees that holiday gatherings are likely to be interrupted by political telemarketers. The accelerated election season also means that newspapers must be prepared for all candidate announcements.
A regional arts council distributes funds to local artists, courtesy of a grant from the state arts board. A start-up company gets a boost from a venture capital fund. A local bike trail will finally connect two cities, thanks to support from a new state trails program.
This even-numbered year launches another election cycle. Some newspapers are well into the mode with spring elections. It’s not too early for everyone to convene a brainstorming session for the general elections this fall. In all cases, it’s essential to pay attention to the central figures: the candidates.
Another election season is under way, and newsrooms are gearing up for campaigns that last weeks and even months. Coverage will consume the news pages from candidate profiles and community forums to photo requests and letters to the editor. And don’t forget the steady barrage of press releases.
Nearly every editor can likely relate to this phone call: “Hi, I’m in charge of publicity for the Lions Club. I’ve been asked to contact you about a story to promote our upcoming rib fest.” You insert the organization and the event.
A reader complained about a published letter that supported teachers in their contract dispute: Did the editor know the writer was the spouse of a teacher? Why wasn’t that noted since the writer has a self-interest in the outcome of negotiations?
Who is Jim Pumarlo?
Community newspapers, at their best, are stewards of their communities. The news columns are a blend of stories that people like to read and stories they should read. The advertising columns promote and grow local commerce. And the editorial pages are a marketplace of ideas.
Jim Pumarlo understands that energized newspapers are at the foundation of energized communities. His message is straightforward: Community newspapers – whether delivering information in the print or on the Web – must focus on local news if they are to remain relevant to their readers and advertisers.
You’re welcome to reprint these columns with the appropriate tagline:
Jim Pumarlo writes, speaks and provides training on community newsroom success strategies. He is author of “Bad News and Good Judgment: A Guide to Reporting on Sensitive Issues in Small-Town Newspapers,” “Votes and Quotes: A Guide to Outstanding Election Coverage” and “Journalism Primer: A Guide to Community News Coverage.” He can be reached at www.pumarlo.com and welcomes comments and questions at email@example.com.