Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve received angry letters and emails from readers who question our news judgment when we put a news story on Page A8 instead of Page A1, as they think it should be.
In particular, the criticism comes regarding stories like the end of the federal shutdown, the State of the Union address, the arrest of Roger Stone.
Sometimes our readers are upset that we don’t recognize “the importance” of a story. Other times, readers think we are displaying a bias for putting a story inside.
So I thought I would try to explain our news decision-making process a little bit. I hope it helps some folks understand why we do what we do, but I’m pretty certain there are some people for whom an explanation just won’t suffice. But I’ll try anyway.
Our first consideration is local news. As you might notice, almost every day, our front page is completely or nearly completely local news. We do this for a couple of reasons. One, we believe that local news is what we’re best at. We have a team of extremely hard-working local reporters who are covering their beats, covering city council meetings, local trials and the state Legislature. I believe we cover local news better than anyone else.
Second, we believe local issues have a more direct impact on your daily life than most national news stories. A subdivision going in next door to you will have more impact on your life than whether Roger Stone was arrested. A $187 million jail bond will affect your wallet much more than a politician’s speech.
The third reason is scarcity. What sets us apart from anyone else? Why would someone read the Idaho Press instead of another publication? Is it because we provide a news article about the State of the Union that you already watched the night before and about which you could find probably 127 different articles from 127 different news sources written about the same subject? (Most of the criticism is for something that the reader already knew about.) Or do you read the Idaho Press because we are the only place where you will find an article about the shortage of court reporters in Idaho or about plans for a new fair building in Canyon County or about what your school is doing to prepare for a potential measles outbreak? We prioritize exclusive stories that are scarce, that you usually can’t find anywhere else.
Now, is that always the case? No, sometimes we’ll indeed put on the front page an “important” story that can be found elsewhere, such as the Idaho Supreme Court’s decision on Medicaid expansion. Still, it fulfilled two of those criteria: local and impact. I would also argue scarcity, on the grounds that you couldn’t find the depth of coverage of the issue that we had anywhere else.
Fortunately, for every nasty email and letter I get, I usually get one more complimenting us on what we’re trying to do here. “I’m writing to tell you how much my wife and I are enjoying your publication. We love the local news and hometown feel of the paper, and find it refreshing to not see bad news from the nation’s capital on the front page. … We know you need to include some coverage of the mess in Washington, but we are glad to wait until the later pages of the front section before coming to such items. When we do see them, we usually skip reading them.”
Finally, I just want to say that this is not an exact science. There is no right answer and no wrong answer about what should go on the front page and what should go on A9. Do we sometimes get it wrong? Probably.
But rest assured, there is a method to our madness. It has nothing to do with bias or thoughtlessness or, my favorite, “journalistic malpractice.” I hope most of you appreciate this approach we’re taking, and I hope that others may come around and recognize the value of what we’re trying to accomplish.