Weekly Newspaper and Travel Guide
for Pecos Country
of West Texas
Friday, December 30, 2005
By Smokey Briggs
How we handle
You cannot please all the people all the time.
Never were these words more true than when it comes to political coverage.
As the new year approaches so does a hot and heavy political season, and it seems like a good time to explain how we cover politics.
It is simple really. We handle political coverage like all of our other coverage.
Every decision regarding what makes the paper, what does not run, what goes on Page One, what picture runs - starts and ends with the answer to one simple question: “What will best serve our readers today?”
Now, I think many newspapers put the cart before the horse when it comes to political, and many other venues, of news coverage.
They start with, “What is fair?”
In the quest to be fair to everyone they end up with a mess of rules and regulations that strangle good news coverage and rarely serves their readers.
They end up with rules that candidates for political office cannot be mentioned in stories regarding other events, or cannot have their picture in the paper even though their picture was newsworthy that day. They end up with hair-brained rules, which allow only one story per candidate, and that each story must be the same length, and each picture the same size.
They also end up with bland political coverage that may make the politicians happy, but is a disservice to their readers.
A better start is, “What is news today.” No, you don’t get the same cookie cutter article on each politician when you take this route, but you do end up with a better newspaper.
And, in the long run, if you base every decision on the same news criteria, then fairness emerges as well.
At the same time, we accomplish the first goal of any newspaper, which is to sell newspapers.
Lots of them.
It is what we do. When a newspaper forgets that important fact it has charted a course for bankruptcy and soon will not be fulfilling any of the other glamorous and high-minded roles that go along with selling newspapers.
Another question that comes up during the political season is one of control. Folks running for political office often want to write their own story and then have it printed as though it were actually written by a reporter.
I do not go for that either. Not if I can help it.
Sometimes we get written press releases and sometimes we interview a candidate.
No matter how we get the information, Candidate X loses all control once a reporter scribbles the words down.
We make no promises to run all, some, or none of a given article.
Now, I do teach our reporters to call folks and read their articles back to them to double check facts and quotes.
Please do not mistake this as an invitation to edit, rephrase, or play with word choice. It is not. It is a courtesy extended to everyone when we have time -- and it is done in the interest of getting the facts straight the first time around.
After such a call to check the facts, the reporter is going to file the article with the editor and then the reporter loses all control.
Editors get paid to edit. They hack, reword, cut, add, clarify and paraphrase to wring the most out of the words and make it fit the news hole available that day.
Some days the hole is large and some days it is small.
The process leaves some stories longer than others. Sometimes two stories get combined into one, and sometimes one story becomes two or three.
The same goes with positioning within the newspaper. On a slow news day the announcement that Joe is running for dogcatcher may get front page billing. On a day with more news it may not make the paper at all.
And it all comes back to serving our readers.
The story that we think will be of the most interest to our readers, and hence sell the most newspapers, goes first. And so on.
When the number of pages that we can afford to print that day is full, we print that edition and start working on the next one.
It is a simple process with one goal in mind - serving our readers. They are the people a newspaper has a real obligation to be fair too.
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York M. "Smokey" Briggs, Publisher
324 S. Cedar St., Pecos, TX 79772
Phone 432-445-5475, FAX 432-445-4321
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