Alan Riquelmy: Newspaper mantra: Work for readers
Every reporter has a story they’re not proud of.
Hell, some of us have portfolios we’d rather never saw the light of day again.
For the most part, blame the writer. They’re the ones with control. They’re likely putting a lot of effort into the lede, the interviews, ensuring everything fits perfectly into place.
Then again, there are those times when you’ve just been dealt a bad hand.
Maybe it’s a parade, which is truly a hated exercise by most reporters. Go out there and write a story about a bunch of floats driving down the street. Why did you come out to watch the parade?
You want to shout at the editor: Because it’s a parade! Why do you think they came out? To ask Santa about labor union issues with the elves?
For me, it was a block party, which pretty much falls into the parade category. Why did you come to the block party? Well, I figure I enjoy drinking alcohol and listening to music. Next question.
So I tried to finesse the lede. I can make this worth reading, I figured. This line will draw them in.
“They came here to dance. They didn’t come alone.”
Well, at least it was correct.
Small-town newspapers across the country suffer from coverage like this. Some editor, pulling their hair out and desperate for content, assigns a non-story to fill up space. You can’t plan for that tornado to come through, which means some days you’re staring at an empty page and a looming deadline. Better do something about it.
I like to think we avoid that here. Some stories only require pictures. Some need photos with a written story. And others don’t need any art at all.
Picking the right tool for the job, and planning, go a long way toward giving the reader something of value.
That’s why we read the newspaper, right? Because we value the information it provides, not someone’s random thoughts about the parade float that just sailed past.
Similar situation — I used to write editorials for a small paper in the South. The publisher was direct: only write positive pieces. The editorial page, he determined, was no place for criticism.
That was the same town where the head of some economic development group chided the newspaper for putting homicides on the front page. How do you think that looks to prospective businesses? They’re not going to come here if we report on people killing each other!
It makes you wonder: Who are we serving? Is it the economic development guy who wants bad news hidden deep inside the newspaper? Or maybe the publisher who’s desperately keeping the paper from having a negative opinion? Perhaps it’s the editor who just needs that story filed so they can edit it and go home at a decent hour for once.
All those are wrong, and the real answer is obvious to anyone in my industry. We serve you, the reader. And, in a kind manner or otherwise, you’re keen to let us know when we’ve strayed.
It’s an odd business. We want advertisers happy, so they keep buying ads. And we want readers happy, so they continue to subscribe. Yet we regularly publish news and opinion that upsets everyone.
Regardless of your politics, or thoughts about the paper, you should know we have a team that pushes to find the news, report it and do so in a professional manner.
We come into work every day repeating this mantra.
As long as you keep reading, we won’t be doing it alone.
Alan Riquelmy is the editor of the Sierra Sun and The Union. He can be reached at 530-477-4239.
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