Anyone who has edited or published a community newspaper knows the most challenging and, often, agonizing part of the job is dealing with sensitive issues. I dealt with many issues like this during my career as an editor, and wished there was some type of guidance available, not only for the decision to go or not go with the story, but for developing and explaining the policy behind the decision when the inevitable wrath of a few or more readers loomed after the paper hit the newsstands. Now, there is a book that not only advises hometown newspaper editors about the process of handling sensitive stories, but also provides invaluable sample policies that cover everything from delicate subjects such as suicides, to more common content such as weddings and obituaries.
Black Ink, e-mail Newsletter for Community Papers
I have made your book required reading for my staff. You took the things that so many of us in community journalism know intuitively and put them to pen and paper. It was such a huge help to have them articulated so well – it provided a deeper explanation of many of the things I have talked about with my staff. I feel very fortunate to have learned from your many years of experience and insights. And, I think in the journalism business, learning from others is a continuous work in progress.
Grand Rapids (Minn.) Herald-Review
Community newspapers have for many years been the training ground for many j-school graduates. Before Jim Pumarlo’s “Bad News and Good Judgment” came out, though, relatively little had been written on community journalism and most newly minted journalists were ill-prepared to exist, let alone prosper, in the world of small-town journalism. Pumarlo’s book has changed all that, and now there’s absolutely no excuse for new journalists to enter the world of community journalism with fear or loathing. Journalists at metro papers don’t have to worry about going to the grocery store or a movie or a gas station after theyíve written a story, and running into a friend, family member or spouse of the person they’ve just covered in a newspaper article. Thus, writing about suicides, sexual abuse cases and fatal accidents takes on an immediacy at a small publication that seldom is the case at larger newspapers. Pumarlo’s approach to covering tough issues is inherently process driven, rather than being filled with “thou shalt nots.” As a result, this 118-page book is remarkably thorough, smartly written and incredibly helpful.
William A. Babcock, Professor and Chairman
Department of Journalism, California State University, Long Beach
News is not like sausage. People love to see how it’s put together. This book is the ultimate inside look at the pressures of daily decision-making at a small newspaper. It belongs on the desks of reporters and editors and is a must for news junkies.
Red Wing (Minn.) Republican Eagle
This book should be on the desk of every community newspaper editor. Youíll be glad to have Jim Pumarlo’s experienced guidance whenever you face a tough ethical decision. Should we publish this accident scene photo? Should we print the name of the local executive who committed suicide? You will feel much more confident making these decisions after reading this book.
To help you as you review or develop your policies on covering sensitive issues, Jim has included a section with sample policy language. Why reinvent the wheel when an experienced editor can guide you in your task?
Minnesota Newspaper Association
At a time when too many publishers and editors take pains to keep tough stories out of their newspapers, Pumarlo’s commitment to reporting community news that makes some people in town uncomfortable pays crucial respect to journalism’s mission.
Minnesota News Council
Jim Pumarlo’s book covers the gamut of ethical problems that community newspaper editors will face in their careers and provides thoughtful, practical suggestions on how to resolve them fairly and honestly. Editors must develop procedures with which to handle the difficult, sensitive issues that arise, and this book provides the guidelines necessary to do that job.
John R. Finnegan Sr.
St. Paul (Minn.) Pioneer Press
If you read Jim Pumarlo’s book and heed his practical advice, youíll have a huge advantage the next time an ethical problem arises — you’ll have the structure, policies and guidance to make the right decision.
American Press Institute
Jim Pumarlo, former editor of the Red Wing (Minn.) Republican Eagle, reflects on journalism at its most intimate, when the newspaper staff and the people it covers know each other as members of the same community. Pumarlo runs through the roster of hard-to-handle stories — suicides, sexual abuse, school suspensions, fatal-accident photos, covering business and advertisers, and more. His basic advice is the same throughout — set consistent policies, and explain them. Talk to people; tell them what you need to do and why. And do not be afraid to take the blame. As he writes: “The worst mistake an editor can make is to act like God.”
Founding Editor of Columbia Journalism Review
and professor emeritus of journalism and history
at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst
Published in Columbia Journalism Review, May/June 2005
Don’t be deceived by the small size of “Bad News and Good Judgment: A Guide to Reporting on Sensitive Issues in a Small-Town Newspaper.” This Strunk and White of community journalism concisely covers the gamut of ethical dilemmas faced by community journalists and offers concrete advice that will inspire practicing journalists and journalism students alike to live up to the highest standards of their craft. Guiding readers through the process of developing news policies in advance of problematic situations, Jim Pumarlo addresses the responsibility community journalists have to report the bad news along with the good. The book is packed with real-life examples that illustrate how to deal in a fair and sensitive manner with everything from confidential sources to suspensions of student athletes. Above all, it is written in a tight, straightforward style befitting an award-winning editor with 28 years of community journalism experience.
Phyllis E. Alsdurf
Department of English
St. Paul, Minn.
Fact is, from a business point of view, sensitive issues light the fire that compels readership. Readership is the numerical denominator that determines advertising rates and subscription volumes. The media products that know financial success are the ones who tackle the tough issues with thoughtful, honest, trusted resolve. Jim Pumarlo’s book gets to the heart of it and delivers a simple and complete guideline.
James L. Edlund
Advertising/Marketing Director, General Manager (retired)
Red Wing (Minn.) Republican Eagle