What is Appropriate News for a
Small Town Weekly Newspaper?

trans1x1 gif In the May 3, 2001, editorial of the Pioneer Tribune, news was made. A statement of the newspaper's mission and journalistic philosophy was presented, in black on white. The reason given for the article was an apparent rhetorical question: "What, exactly, is the value of a small town weekly newspaper?" It could be assumed, from the editorial's "Mission statement" tone, that the newspaper has been subject to a degree of criticism and scrutiny that prompted an apparent defense in an editorial form.

A number of key points were elaborated to explain the value and role of the community's newspaper. Most were instantly recognizable as appropriate and desirable. Some points are questionable. Quoted statements, addressed in context, follow. It is suggested that the reader peruse the entire original editorial.

Several of the newspaper's role key points are:

"To be fair: ... ... With the exception of the weekly editorial column, anything other than "we report, you decide" is unacceptable."

For some, may be all that is desired is fair reporting of good news, by conscientious, perceptive and knowledgeable writers. Depending upon which definition of "fair" one might use, favoring positive news over negative news demonstrates a distinct bias that contradicts others' understanding of "fairness" as related to the newspaper's choice of published news. Some would like to decide about reports known to be true and important but restricted to coffee shop rumor status.

"To be positive: ... ...We believe we must be as positive as circumstances allow. ..."

Given these fictitious circumstances: Over time, a public employee or official behaves as a chronic liar, has a chemical abuse problem, has misappropriated public property, misused public property, made questionable decisions that benefited influential public figures and herself, promoted public employee beer parties on public time, is responsible for and helped cover up stupid blunders (perhaps those made as a result of chemical abuse) that cost the community substantial money and placed the public's health and safety at risk.

Then: What circumstances might influence silence concerning the above scenario or similar behavior? What arbitrary or fixed standard determines the degree of "positivity" required for such a story to be deemed newsworthy? Who or what is the arbiter of such standards?

Is it to the community's benefit to be aware of only that negative news that concerns those that have fallen afoul of the law in full view of the public?

"When criticism is warranted, we render it, but we always try to do so constructively ...."

A noble goal, but... There is much in the world that cannot be changed, within the constraints of an individual's or society's resources, priorities and time; so the press and community should remain silent? If no "constructive" solution is at hand, then what? Should criticism, or negative news be muted or non existent?

"We don't believe in tearing down, unless we're also extending a hand to help rebuild."

In the imperfect world we live in, many folk would just as soon know why something, or someone, needs tearing down, and/ or replacement, so that when the community has the means, what should be done gets done. If nothing else, public knowledge has a tendency to discourage behavior of public and private officials and employees, that is at odds with majority public interests.

"To be part of the world we cover: ... ...We don't just report the news in Schoolcraft County. We live here. We work here. We attend the same games and concerts, fund raisers and festivals, as everyone else. Our children go to the same schools. We worship in the same churches."...

To which might be added "We's" membership in, or business with, other businesses, fraternal organizations, social clubs, political organizations, special interest groups, influential individuals, etc. A newspaper's business and its employee's associations with any and all is placed at risk if anything but good news is published; except that regarding common criminals. Business and social associations are far more likely, in a small town, to determine what is newsworthy, or not, and the choice of news is far more likely to be held hostage to parochial special interests, often far removed from "enlightened" self interests.

Good news is similar to good advertising. Good news, in general, influences the ignorant to part with their money in a myriad of ways. Bad news has a tendency, in general, to do the opposite. Good news, generally, serves the financial interests of community businesses, including that of a newspaper business. Bad news, generally, does not.

To be fair and impartial in the choice of news to be reported, as well as the actual reporting, requires far more integrity, courage and community support than can be rationalized away by a single editorial.

Why might competitive media become labelled as "sources" of negative news, with its "bad" and "destructive" inference? Does it help balance the pervasive good news in a small town newspaper? Is enough community support available for local newspaper reporting to be a little more balanced?

Maybe most of the negative news, from other than the community's newspaper, is self serving rumor and propaganda and Manistique and Schoolcraft County is the picture of perfection some would have the world believe. Then again; maybe not.

Maybe obsequious deference to private interests is the standard for local journalism. Then again; maybe not.

Whatever the case, it is likely to include some of the above.

Maybe the Pioneer Tribune's mission statement and balance of positive and negative news needs some revision, in the light of competitive media, burgeoning technology and a population that is becoming a little more savvy, in the "Information Age". Then again; maybe not.

 © 2001-2003
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