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?
A family’s farm is devastated by a tornado. A reporter is on the scene moments afterward to record the events, including talking with family members.
A student commits suicide and, understandably, it’s a shock to many people. A story documents the community’s response; the family relives the episode, blow by blow.
A reader denounces the newspaper for shortchanging the “honest comments of a longtime local resident” by publishing a rebuttal from an out-of-state resident – “a professional who has a vested interest, a doubtful local connection to the Red Wing community.”
Nearly 50 employees are out of jobs due to the decision of an out-of-state insurance company to close its local office. We caught word of the news through an employee and promptly carried a report. The company never made a public announcement.
A reader complains: Why is it necessary to print the dollar amount of all building permits? Wouldn’t it suffice to acknowledge a household remodeling project without a price tag?
The reader didn’t say it, but the editor is certain the following thought was on her mind: “After all, the dollar value is only for snoopy neighbors.”
Ariel Castro has immediately become a household name after being arrested in connection with the three women held captive for years in his Cleveland home. His trial is probably months away, but it’s a safe bet that if you poll Americans today, the resounding public verdict is “guilty as charged.”
Newspapers continually are challenged to produce informative and probing business news reports. The problem is compounded when no one person is the designated business writer. That’s a luxury which few community newsrooms can afford.
Editors are routinely challenged with making uncomfortable news decisions. Pressed by a reader for your rationale, you respond, “That’s our policy,” or “It doesn’t meet our guidelines.” Later in the calm and privacy of your office, you reflect, “We could have done a better job.”
Many newspapers do a great job of looking in the rearview mirror, and that used to be adequate for inviting readers into their pages. The old formula doesn’t work anymore if community newspapers are to remain relevant. The changing media landscape, coupled with the demands on readers’ time, require that newsrooms pay just as much attention looking ahead and around as to looking back.
A reader questions your policy for reporting suicides. A local retailer challenges your staff to produce timely and relevant business news. A reporter is confronted for printing a press release charging a candidate with unfair campaign practices without contacting the accused for a response.
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.