What makes a news story?

Thursday, December 27, 2012

It was a big year in Eureka Springs and a big year everywhere. So many big stories broke it has been difficult narrowing down the list small enough to include everything in even two end-of-year issues.

With the exception of the indomitable Chip Ford, the entire staff of the Citizen left en masse midway through the year to start its own newspaper. Fortunately they were quickly replaced by an experienced team, not only journalistically but also in terms of what "local" really means, hyperbole aside. Once the dust settled and the melodrama died away, the community remains served by a Citizen that is sharper than it has been in years and devoted to both informing and entertaining its readers with first-rate coverage, writing and photography.

So what makes a story newsworthy? Some are foot-stompers: the closing of the Passion Play; the long-debated urban deer hunt; the new high school; the new sales tax that will allow major improvements at Lake Leatherwood Park; the endless debate over the city's taxi and limo services.

With so many big stories on the national scene, our own little corner of the world seems tame by comparison. Hurricane Sandy, most recently followed so quickly by the terrible shootings in Connecticut and New York.

The expensive and protracted race for the White House never seemed to end, though for many of us it ended with a big sigh of relief that we weren't stuck with the plutocracy the GOP had in mind with Mitt Romney. (Plutocracy: as Foghorn Leghorn would put it, "That's, ah say, that's rule by the RICH, son.")

And now we have survived the end of the world, apparently. Some will have been disappointed by yet another failure of some magical apocalypse from the Mayan-Nostrodamic prophecy machine. Some were hopeful for a transcendent transformation.

For most of us, it was just another day of waking up in the world.

So what constitutes a good news story?

From the beginning of time, it's been a natural but unfortunate fact of life in the newspaper business that often people want you to do things you are unable or unwilling to do.

Someone will plop down in the chair across the desk and explain they have a cause that needs "written up" and "put before the court of public opinion."

A gentleman and his dog appeared out of the darkness the other night at the front door of the office to do just that, and he laid it out all, solved all of the city's problems, then strolled off into the darkness. (Or at least he thought he did all those things.)

Now, there are causes and there are causes, and it's true at times the newspaper does advocate issues we feel contribute to the good of the community.

We try, as H. L. Mencken put it, "to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable."

What we do not do, however, is take sides in real or perceived injustices or unfairnesses of a personal nature, especially if they are of a litigious nature, especially before they go to court.

It is a matter of editorial policy, on the other hand, to make decisions about coverage of events pertaining to the community good when they involve systemic or chronic injustices, whether they arise from spite or avarice.

It's our job to listen, read, look, gather facts, try to get an overall understanding of the situation, and present that in as clear a manner as possible, given our limitations, to the reader.

To the extent we accomplish that, we are satisfied. As my old grandpappy used to say, "Everybody can't love you all the time." So you do the best you can.

Having said that, Happy Holidays and enjoy our year-end Citizens.