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Tuesday, April 30, 2002

Smokey Briggs


By Smokey Briggs

If you don't

want it printed....

"If you don't want it printed, don't let it happen."

That is the motto of the Aspen Daily News and it is a good motto for a newspaper.

Newspapers are in the business of reporting the news.

In the process they take a lot of grief over what is or what is not printed.

On a regular basis folks stomp into my office to complain because we did not print the picture of little Joey and his science award or to complain that Aunt Agnes should not be included in the arrest report because she bit the neighbor's Doberman.

In the end, most folks seem to chalk up the selection of news in the daily fish wrapper to the personal vendettas, prejudices, friendships and stupidity of the editors and reporters who work there.

Just for the record, on most days there is a little more to the answer.

News is not an easily defined word.

Perhaps that is because there is more than one criterion that should be considered when judging the news value of any given article.

What is news in Pecos is not necessarily news in Dallas and vice versa and on a given day, the news value of an event can change.

There are days when a feature on a local citizen with a passion for growing tulips is worthy of the front page. The next day that same article might not make the cut at all.

In general, reporters are taught that there are six criteria for judging the value of any particular bit of news: impact, proximity, timeliness, conflict, prominence and novelty.

Every editor consciously or unconsciously runs through this list as he or she makes judgments about what will make today's paper and what will not.

Impact and proximity are closely related. Does the event impact your audience? If it is close by, the more likely it will, but sometimes events in far away places have an impact on the audience. Events in the Middle East oil fields matter in West Texas despite the thousands of miles separating the areas.

Timeliness is easy _ old news is not news. That is why reporters and editors often cut their whiskey with liquid ant-acid.

Conflict speaks for itself. People being people, we tend to be interested in conflict and newspapers cannot ignore the interests of their readers.

Prominence, like timeliness, is easy. The more prominent a person is within the community, the more likely he is to see his name in print. When Joe the milkman gets arrested for drunk and disorderly it probably will not get past the police report. If Joe happens to be an elected official, he will probably make the front page.

Novelty is the fun side of news. An article about a dog biting a man might not make the cut, but an article about a man biting a dog probably will. Man bites dog is novel.

So, some days, the story of Aunt Agnes attacking the neighbor's Doberman with her dentures might just make the front page. On other days, it will not. The selection process has very little to do with personal feelings toward Aunt Agnes or the dog.

If it does or does not make the afternoon news it probably has more to do with what else happened or did not happen that day than it does with any axe grinding going on in the offices of the Fish Wrapper.

So, if you don't want to see it printed, don't let it happen.

Or at least, if you are going to do it anyway and do not want to see the results in print, do it on a day when Aunt Agnes bites the Mayor's dog and causes the dog to jump out in the street which causes a tanker truck full of crude oil to swerve and knock out an oil pipeline causing the price of crude to skyrocket which brings an end to economic hard times in West Texas.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Smokey Briggs is the editor and publisher of the Pecos Enterprise whose column appears on Tuesdays. He can be e-mailed at:

Our View

You can justify terrorism in the right situation

"There can be no justification for terror."

President Bush repeated that line again last week. It is a naive statement that rings hollow.

In their anxiousness to maintain public support Bush and the rest of the free world's leaders are backing into an indefensible philosophical corner in the current war on terrorism by declaring that all terroristic acts are evil.

Terrorism, as an act, is no more evil than any other act of war.

It is not the method of war that defines the righteousness of a war, it is the motives of those waging the war.

Partisans throughout Europe fought fascist Germans and communist Russians with acts we would brand terrorism.

Those guerillas were fighting evil with the only methods left to the poorest of combatants — terror.

Today the United States is faced by enemies that happen to be using acts of terror to further their war against us.

But it is not their methods that are evil.

It is their motives.

In the end, even their motives are of little importance. Only the fact that they threaten America matters.

For that and that reason alone, they should be exterminated.

Your View

Local gun range facility available for all citizens

Dear Editor:
This is in regards to an ad placed in the Pecos  Enterprise by Mayor Ray Ortega on April 17, 2002. At the end of  the ad, Mr. Ortega stated that among his goals for the  future is Development and Create a new gun range facility for  all residents.

I would like to inform Mr. Ortega and the rest of the citizens of Reeves County that we already have a gun range facility for all residents. It is called The Pecos Rifle, Pistol and Trap Club, Inc., and the range is located just south of town. The club and its facilities are available to the citizens of Reeves County and surrounding areas for a $24.00 annual membership fee. This is a range which was built almost entirely for private, civilian citizens of this area and is maintained through annual dues paid by the members and use fees paid by various Law Enforcement agencies.

So, Mr. Mayor, I would recommend that instead of worrying about duplicating a facility to which anyone with the $24.00 annual due fee may have access, you should spend your energy and our tax dollars on more worth while projects.

Past President and Current Member of the Pecos Rifle, Pistol and Trap Club, Inc.

Citizen feels request was a little harsh

Dear Editor:
Perhaps your editorial in the April 23, 2002 edition of the  Pecos Enterprise, taking the Town of Pecos City to task for  their responses to the Enterprise's request for public records, was  a little harsh.

The Enterprise's contention that a request for records under the Texas Open Records Act may be verbal, written, or by electronic transmission is not exactly accurate.

Many government employees process routine requests for records as part of their ordinary duties. These transactions do not ordinarily raise issues under the Open Records Act because no written request is made for the records or because no real issue exists about whether the records must be, or may be released.

The Open Records Act is only triggered when a person submits a written request for information. While the request must be in writing, it need not be in any special form.

There are compelling reasons to require a request for records be in written form. A written request eliminates future argument about what information was requested. In the event that part of the requested information may be exempt form disclosure by law, the government agency has a duty to request a ruling of the attorney general only if a written request exists.

The 1998 Texas Open Records Act Handbook, issued by the Office of the Attorney General, on page 17 states, "A government body that receives a verbal request for information may require the requestor to submit that request in writing because the governmental body's duty under section 552.301(a) to request a ruling from the attorney general arises only after it receives a written request."

The request does not have to specifically request the information under the Open Records Act, and the government agency can not question the purpose for the request.

Open Records Decision No. 44, issued by the Attorney General in 1972 held that "If a written communication to an agency can be reasonably judged a request for public information, it is a request within the terms of the Open Records Act whether the act is named, and the agency is bound to follow the procedural dictates of the Act.

Open Records Decision No. 304, issued in 1982 included the statement "You also ask that we determine whether a government body may require that a request for information under the Open Records Act be made in writing. Section 7a of that act provides in pertinent part: …the governmental body within a reasonable time, no later than 10 days, after receiving a written trequest must request a decision from the attorney general to determine whether the information is within that exception. In our view the statute does not require any governmental body to produce information in the absence of a written request."

Your statement that requests for information could be made by electronic mail is valid. Open Records Decision 654 had previously held that electronic mail did not satisfy the requirement for a written request. The Seventy-fifth Legislature amended section 552.301(a) by defining a written request for information to include a request that is sent by electronic mail or facsimile transmission.

The Town of Pecos City Secretary's response that the Enterprise request for information be placed in a written or facsimile format should have been applauded as a government agency acting correctly, not criticized for doing her job.

Thank you for the clarification,

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Pecos Enterprise
York M. "Smokey" Briggs, Publisher
Division of Buckner News Alliance, Inc.

324 S. Cedar St., Pecos, TX 79772
Phone 915-445-5475, FAX 915-445-4321

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