An error of simple subtraction reminder why we all need editors
During my time as editor of the Sierra Sun, I’ve been reminded a handful of times of Peter Kostes, a name that should ring familiar for longtime readers.
When I first started my journalism career as a reporter in 2007 with the North Lake Tahoe Bonanza, Peter was with our senior management team in Carson City, assisting our newspapers in the Sierra Nevada Media Group with editorial oversight.
Peter left our company in 2010 — a year or so after I became involved with the Sun — to become public information officer with the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada, where he remains today. I still get emails from him every week, like clockwork, with an attached “Weekly Media Report” of the commission’s happenings of interest.
Going back 20 years, Peter was named editor of the Sierra Sun in 1990, before eventually becoming publisher in 1997 (mental note: 2010 minus 1990 equals 20 years).
Peter held the role of Sun publisher for two years before transferring to a sister paper of ours, The Record-Courier, in Gardnerville, Nev. He eventually moved onto the Nevada Appeal and other roles in Carson City.
But it was during his time running the show in Truckee that I’ve been reminded of most by readers. The handful of calls and emails I’ve gotten centered on the same topic, and they went something like this:
Reader: “Do you know who Peter Kostes was?”
Me: “Sure; he taught me a lot during his time with our company. Good man. Good journalist.”
Reader: “Well, do you know he used to do this thing when he’d report the salaries of the town manager and all the other general managers of our public agencies?”
Me: “Well, no. I haven’t been around that long to know … but darn, that’s something we should be doing.”
The first time I got a call like that was in 2010, and it ate at me. And every time I’d get a reminder, it’d eat at me a little more. That’s valuable public information we should be reporting, I told myself.
But it seemed like every time I cleared the stack of papers off my desk and cleaned out the email inbox and prepared to look into it, something would pop up, and I’d get distracted with other important work.
Well, four years after that first call (note: 2014 minus 2010 equals four), we were finally able to publish an update to these salaries, as most of you likely read in last Friday’s cover story, “Show me the money.”
Sure, I’m biased, but I feel it’s a pretty informative story that offers several ideas and opinions on the state of publicly funded CEO salaries here at Truckee-Tahoe, and how they’ve evolved over the years.
We wanted to do more than just a list of salaries, so we balanced the numbers against previous decades and made several comparisons (some apples to apples, others with a few oranges thrown in, admittedly).
Could we have done more? Sure. As we reported in the story several times, we didn’t even touch bonuses, benefits packages, pension plans and other forms of compensation.
We did this on purpose, to give readers the easiest of slates on which to compare straight-up base salaries. I’m not saying reporting benefits isn’t valuable information, but considering the time it takes to gather all these years of data, to analyze it and to talk to sources to comment on it, we felt the story was best as published.
In the end, it is straightforward reporting of what Kostes loved to do while here — publish pieces of public information — and we added various elements and commentary to it to add context.
And, in the end, we hope readers get some value out of it, regardless if you feel upset or content with dollar amounts.
I’ve received some feedback since it published. Some saying thanks for putting the numbers out there, others saying it’s not surprising and a couple others getting after me for only reporting base salaries.
And then, there’s the email we got bright and early Friday morning from, ironically, one of those public officials whose salary we reported: “Not a bad story, and I hate to nitpick … but 1984 to 2014 is a 30-year period, not 40 years as repeatedly stated in the story.”
(insert curse words here)
For all the work we did to get every meticulous number right, to make the comparisons and to design the entire package just right, we allowed two reporters and three editors, myself included, to forget the basics of simple subtraction.
It just goes to show — as Peter and every other mentor I’ve had throughout my career has reminded me: Everyone needs an editor.
Yet another important lesson on the evolving road that is newspapering.
Kevin MacMillan is managing editor of the Sierra Sun and North Lake Tahoe Bonanza. Reach him for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.