Ask the Editor: It’s not news if there’s nothing new

Our coverage decisions are often based on whether there is fresh information

sduerr@thetribunenews.comNovember 8, 2009 

Centerpiece

This market summary appeared in the Oct. 24 paper. It should have said ‘DOW,’ not ‘OW.’

On Oct. 24 between 800 and 1,000 people participated in the first ever Central Coast Walk for Life. It was a fabulous event, with several nationally known speakers, music and testimonials in support of the cause of life. The high point of the event was a peaceful walk through downtown, from the Mission to the abortion mill on Pismo Street with the escort of the San Luis Obispo Police Department.

When 1,000 people march through downtown San Luis Obispo as an organized group that is surely a newsworthy event. … Is the editorial staff making decisions based on a political or social agenda of their own?

— Sheryl Collmer, San Luis Obispo

A: As you know, the issue of abortion sparks heated debate on both sides. We appreciate, and understand, such reactions. In promoting this particular event, organizers noted that their goal was “to demonstrate our commitment to the sanctity of human life.” Given that the event offered no new information on the issue, we opted against covering it. We would have reacted similarly had the event been organized by pro-choice groups. Our decision had nothing to do with editors’ personal political or social agenda.

Q: The headline in the Oct. 16 Tribune read, “U.S. may put premium on healthy living.’’ This headline should lead one to think the government is considering providing some sort of bonus for people who maintain healthy lifestyles. … What we found as we read the story is that the Congress is considering charging those who do not maintain healthy habits. … I realize this article came from the Washington Post, but your staff should realize that the Post typically writes with an agenda. You should assess any Post article before publishing it to assure the headline fits the story line.

— Jim Vint, Nipomo

A: I won’t debate whether the Post’s news coverage is driven by a specific agenda — I don’t believe it is. But I will stand behind the headline that our staff wrote. In addition to the headline that you cite, there was a second headline on the story: “Pending legislation would impose penalties on workers who flunk medical evaluations.’’ I think that together these two headlines clearly reflected the news.

For the record, our copy editors write all headlines that appear in The Tribune — whether it’s a locally written story, wire story or Letter to the Editor. Headline writing is not easy; one needs to capture the essence of a story, within the proper context, under deadline pressure in just a few minutes.

Q: The Tribune may have inadvertently stumbled onto a new designation for financial measurement. (Please see the enclosed stock market summary for Oct. 24.)

— B. Jeffries, St. Louis

A: Indeed, I think we did!

Do you have a question about our news decisions or news operation? Please write to me c/o The Tribune, P.O. Box 112, San Luis Obispo, CA, 93406-0112, or e-mail me at sduerr@thetribunenews.com. Sandra Duerr is the executive editor of The Tribune.

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