Jim Pumarlo, Community Newspaper Training

Newspapers provide broadest access to government records

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Distributed as a guest editorial by the Minnesota Newspaper Association in observance of Sunshine Week, March 15-21, 2009

A city seeks bids for road maintenance. A township announces its election and annual meeting. A county publishes its annual list of delinquent taxes.

All three items are of public interest, and all are prominently displayed under the “public notices” sections in Minnesota newspapers.

Plant the seeds now for 2010 election coverage

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The Inlander/March 2009

The conclusion of the 2008 political campaign – though one of the most memorable in U.S. history with the election of President Barack Obama – most likely brought a collective sigh to the general public and especially to newsrooms. Election coverage is among the most demanding and exhaustive tasks faced by newspapers.

Tips for gathering the tough news

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Publishers' Auxiliary/March 2009

Developing policies for tackling tough and sensitive issues is no easy task. It requires thorough and conscientious consultation with people within and outside newspaper offices.

Once guidelines are drawn, however, the hardest work still may lie ahead. Getting facts to report sensitive stories often is challenging, even if information is deemed public under state and federal laws.

A sensitive approach to reporting on sexual abuse

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The Inlander/February 2009

Sexual abuse is one of the most sensitive topics reported in newspapers. The victims often want to avoid publicity, but reporting sex crimes may help prevent future similar crimes and help victims find sources of help.

Newspapers must walk a delicate path of stating the extent of the crime while still protecting the identity of the victim. It becomes nearly an impossible challenge when the case involves incest – especially sexual abuse of a minor by a parent.

Don’t forget the story behind the statistics

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Publishers' Auxiliary/January 2009

Police were called to a house where a teen-ager refused to leave after the owners were served eviction papers for being arrears on mortgage payments. The youth was removed without incident.

The last sentence of the story may have been the most noteworthy, however. Police served papers on 35 houses that day.

Yes, it's public information - but press must be responsible

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The Inlander/January 2009

Newspapers are privileged to publish a variety of information due to state and federal laws. Without these rights, the pages would be void of content that is the everyday fabric of communitie.

Marriages and divorces; traffic tickets; hiring, firing, discipline, salaries and much more about public employees; court dispositions; building permits; property taxes – these are just a sampling of vital public data.

Report the news, and then provide second-day stories

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The Inlander/December 2008

Suicides. Strikes. Traffic fatalities. Each provides sensitive circumstances, and each presents challenges for coverage, especially in community newspapers.

These are the type of stories that must be reported if newspapers are to be the pre-eminent source of what’s going on in their communities and remain relevant to readers. These circumstances also offer a lesson in the value of follow-up stories.

Letters should promote the exchange of ideas

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The Inlander/November 2008

Here’s one list of basic dos and don’ts to ensure that the letters column will remain relevant:

Limit length: Readers have limited attention span for lengthy stories. The same is true for letters. Editors are doing the writers a favor by imposing limits; 350 words is a good starting point.

Limit frequency of authors: Individuals should be limited to one letter per month, except in the case of rebuttals (see next item).

Take time to plan the editorial page calendar, topics

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The Inlander/October 2008

News content is strongest when editors and reporters routinely identify those stories and events that will warrant their attention. The value of an editorial calendar is twofold.

Some events occur every year and this gives opportunity to look for fresh angles for coverage. City festivals, local government budget hearings and United Way campaigns fall into this category. Plus, by having this coverage in hand, newsrooms are better prepared to handle the unexpected issues and events certain to surface.

Cover small-town controversies with consistent policies

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By Adolfo Mendez/Associate Editor/The Inlander
May 21, 2008

As editor of the Red Wing (Minn.) Republican Eagle, Jim Pumarlo knew how difficult it could be to cover controversial issues in a small town.

"Working at small papers can be tough," Pumarlo told attendees at a recent Inland Press workshop for small newspapers. The local paper often has to write about sensitive issues involving "people who are our friends and neighbors," he said.

Pumarlo.com • Jim Pumarlo • Community Newsroom Success Strategies • 1327 W. Sixth St. • Red Wing, MN • 55066 • (651) 380-4295