Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Philosophy lesson

Always be ready to be questioned, and be sure to consider your answer carefully.

Today, one of the better pieces of e-mail in my 'box' was a request from an advanced placement English student. No, it wasn't anything illegal or immoral, but it made me think.

Her e-mail:

"Dear (middle-aged gasbag),

I am taking AP English and Language this year, at ******* High School. My teacher, Ms. **********, has given us an assignment; she requested that we e-mail a local editor, with the following questions. It would be greatly appreciated if you would please read and answer the following questions for me. Please return them to me at *****************. Thanks again!

Charity M--------

What responsibility or responsibilities does the editor/reporter/writer have to his or her reading public?
What do you consider to be the three most important elements of a successful newspaper article? Please explain your three choices.
How do you determine which information is newsworthy enough for publication?
What are the main criteria used for determining which Letters to the Editor the paper publishes on a daily basis?
Do you often receive responses from your readers?"

I read her e-mail and it struck me that it had been a long time since I'd tried to articulate what my job and responsibilities are.

Here's my reply. Feel free to ridicule at your leisure.


Thanks for your e-mail, and I'd be delighted to answer.

A reporter and editor first and foremost must ensure that what is published - electronically or in print - is accurate, truthful and relevant to the community. News is not a sporting event to snipe at people, but neither is it a place where punches should be pulled when the public's interests are at stake. Ultimately, the responsibilities of an editor and reporter are to do their best to make sure that the community knows as much as possible - good and bad - that affects its quality of life and prosperity.

The elements which make up a good news story are theme, clarity and precision.
In news writing, you've got a limited space for your story. This forces you to make some hard choices: What's important in the story? How do I explain what happened? How do I word it?
Every story has to have a theme - either it's about something that draws the reader into the story, or it's just a list that forces the reader to dig or just lose interest.You have to do some editing just as a newspaper reporter in order to pick out the most important theme in a story.
Clarity and precision go hand in hand. If you can't explain the story in a way your readers can understand , then you've failed. You have to be able to describe and explain exactly what happened, quote or paraphrase accurately what was said, and turn that into a story that makes sense and pulls in your reader. Everything else flows from those elements.

Newsworthiness is a shifting sea that depends on what is important to the community. Even though community importance may change over the years, there are some fixed horizons to guide decisions on what's news.
- Is it fair, whether it puts someone in a good, bad or indifferent light?
- Is it for the public good, or is the public being hurt?
- Is something being hidden that may affect the public's well-being?
- Is justice being served, or is there an injustice?
- Is it something unusual or different that may interest the readership?
- Is there a lesson to be learned that will help the public?
- Has someone made a notable achievement?
- Does it help the community better understand itself?

Regarding letters to the editor: I have included below the letters policy that we use in the ------- ----- ------ and the ----- ------- ----.
"Letters: The ------- ----- ------ and The ----- ------- ---- encourage readers to submit letters and e-mails for publication. All letters and e-mails must be signed and include a daytime telephone number and complete address. Letters and e-mails should be no more than 350 words in length, and may be edited for grammar and length. The newspaper reserves the right to reject letters of a defamatory nature, and to publish letters verbatim as they are received. Get in touch with us at ****************; by mail at: ***********************; or via e-mail at **********************."
During election seasons, we will cut off political letters about two weeks before the election to avoid being used as a surprise mudslinging forum.
The only other guideline we use is to give preference to letters from our circulation area first when space is an issue. Otherwise, letters are run on a first-come basis. Long community thank-you letters are run in a periodic community thanks section as space allows.

We often receive responses from our readers on a variety of topics from presentation to stories to editorial opinions, and they range from bad to good. The important thing is, people care enough about what they are reading to respond. As an editor, I make an effort to contact those who respond to ensure they know that we appreciate their opinions whether we agree or not.

I hope these answers have helped.


(middle-aged gasbag)"

I doubt I'll be invited to speak before her class, but maybe we both learned something today.


Blogger Pamela said...

It's always a good thing to periodically take stock of what we do for a living ~~How we do it, and why we do it.

I think you did well in your answer to her.

9:38 PM  
Blogger Miss Cellania said...

A great essay on your publishing philosophy. I'm glad you kept a copy, since every student in this local AP class has to contact an editor, and how many could there be where you are?

11:00 PM  
Blogger Frontier Editor said...

After Pam posted, another one from the same class sent me the exact same request note >B^D>

12:44 AM  
Anonymous Vicus Scurra said...

"accurate, truthful and relevant to the community"
There goes another career option for me, then.

4:57 AM  
Blogger ziggi said...

I think you should pass the next request onto a British tabloid and ask to see their response - don't think "accurate, truthful and relevant" come into it really

6:09 AM  
Blogger Frontier Editor said...

Did I really put accurate, truthful and relevant? Damn, wrong set of notes . . .

7:30 AM  
Blogger awaiting said...

I think your answer was very good. Although I would have been so mad at my teacher. I hate 'contact so&so' projects. It always seemed to awkward.

10:23 AM  
Blogger awaiting said...



10:24 AM  
Blogger Metro said...

Hmm. D'you think anyone over at the Murdoch ranch has heard this?

Surely not--they'd have suppressed it by editorial fatwa.

2:14 PM  
Blogger Homo Escapeons said...

Clarity and precision?
Your media didn't even mention American Warplanes strafing the Canadian Armed Forces last week in Afghanistan killing one and injuring 30!
Fantastic send it to the major news sources.

12:52 AM  
Blogger Frontier Editor said...

What was even 'funnier' was that they did mention it nut only that a 'NATO' warplane attacked NATO troops. I figured then that it was probably one of our planes and Brit or Canadian troops.

7:14 AM  

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