Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Why we fact-check Letters to the Editors

Several readers have asked us recently: Why do I have to tell you my source of information in my Letter to the Editor? Isn’t this the place in the newspaper where I can simply give you my opinion?

So let me try to answer:
We review all local Letters to the Editor and Viewpoints to ensure that the facts cited are accurate and allegations made are provable. If the commentary can’t pass these tests, we don’t publish them. “We first attempt to verify factual information by checking our own story files, the Internet and other sources. If we are unable to confirm the information — or we find conflicting data — we often ask letter writers to provide their sources,’’ said Opinion Editor Stephanie Finucane.
Besides fact-checking, Letters Editor Heather Smith edits letters for grammar, clarity, length and taste. As Finucane has written before, we reject some letters “because they’re too long; contain libelous or obscene statements; are illegible; or the writer neglected to include the necessary contact information of a full name, address and a phone number where he or she can be reached during business hours.” Furthermore, we try avoiding letters that praise or criticize a particular business.
Smith says that when she explains our policy to letter writers, many thank her for checking the facts, saying “they are happy to know The Tribune does this.’’ To give you a sense of the amount of fact-checking we do, consider this: Of the six to eight letters that we publish daily, only two typically don’t require fact-checking because they’re “thank-you’’ type letters. Looked at another way, we fact check 28 to 36 letters a week, Smith says.

Any other questions about our Opinion Page policies -- or news policies?
If yes, simply email me at sduerr@thetribunenews.com, and I'll reply.

-- Sandy Duerr

Monday, September 17, 2007

Why we published what one reader called a "disgusting anti-American'' editorial cartoon

Q. It was a disgraceful act of The Tribune to allow a disgusting anti-American propaganda piece, such as the cartoon by Gary Markstein, to be posted among the Letters to the Editor on Sept. 12. This was an obvious and vicious attempt to portray General David Petraeus as a liar. Shame on The Tribune.
-- R. Dunbar Salin, Avila Beach

Q. I’m just appalled or really curious as to why you would stoop so low with today’s cartoon that portrays General Petraeus as such a buffoon … I watched General Petraeus on Brit Hume and I was never so impressed … I’m sure there were many cartoons you could have chosen from. I’m sure you could have found something more positive. Do you people just not understand war? Quit playing to the extremist left of people who want this country to go down the tube.
-- Melinda Rice

A. When Opinion Editor Stephanie Finucane selected this particular cartoon, she had three to choose from on the subject that were available for us to publish. All were critical of Army Gen. David Petraeus’ report. One was visually cluttered and difficult to understand, and in a second one, Patraeus was seated at a table draped to look like a coffin, which Finucane found to be off-topic and in poor taste. Since then, another cartoon arrived with the headline, “Once upon a time.” In summary, we did not have cartoons available to us that portrayed a different point of view on this topic. But because the general’s report was the main news of the day, we wanted to offer a commentary on it, and the cartoon we selected was one form.
We select editorial cartoons on all subjects to offer readers another source of commentary, along with political columns, editorials and local Letters to the Editor. They are all part of the mix on our Opinion Page to offer diverse points of view – conservative, liberal, middle-of-the-road. “We encourage readers to judge the Opinion Page on all of this content, not solely on our editorial cartoons,’’ Finucane said. “On this particular day, for example, in addition to the cartoon we ran a column from Cal Thomas headlined, ‘Accept nothing short of victory in Iraq.’”
For the record, all sitting presidents, Republican or Democrat, are a favorite target of cartoonists, who set out to create provocative cartoons to stir up debate.

-- Sandy Duerr

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Love politics? Check out our new Election '08 link

If you are a political junkie, make sure to see the Election '08 link on our home page. You will find it in the right column, or rail, of Web online extras. This link will take you to our election page where we group local coverage with state and national campaign news. Currently, we have mostly national news, as that is where most of the action is occurring. But there are a half dozen stories filed by Tribune staff writers, including news on recent fundraisers and the political impact expected from the controversial viewshed decision made by the county Board of Supervisors. And once local campaigns get more in gear next year, we will load up the coverage.
One other feature I want to point out: The Hot Off the Trail blog. It is written by veteran reporters based in the Washington, D.C. bureau of McClatchy Co., our corporate owner. In 2004 I had the chance to work for a month as deputy political editor in the bureau as the fall presidential campaign moved to the final dash to Election Day. So I got to know several of the reporters, including Steven Thomma, who has wide experience and deep knowledge of presidential politics. You can read his posts in the Hot Off the Trail blog.
_ Tad Weber

Monday, September 10, 2007

No, we haven't gone to "soft'' news!

Q. I know you have been experimenting with The Tribune. My wife and I have been subscribers forever. Recently we have been disappointed with the lifestyle/soft direction of the Tribune. But today's – Aug. 5 -- paper was wonderful with great local, state, national and international coverage. Use today's paper as a benchmark for future efforts. This is what a paper should look like.
-- Steve and Nancy Willison

A. Thanks so much for taking the time to share your views. It is our intent to do what we did Aug. 5 every day -- offer strong news coverage from our county as well as top state, national and world news. When we launched the newspaper changes in August, however, it was the middle of the California Mid-State Fair, which draws thousands of people daily, and a time when there wasn’t much major news occurring countywide. That’s often the case in August. So in addition to stories from the fair (both news and feature stories), we showcased our staff’s kayaking trip along the county’s coastline. Taken together, it appears that these stories gave readers the impression that we had gone “soft.’’ We have not.

Q. There seems to be less national and world news in the newspaper since you launched your new format. We need at least the same level of coverage that we had before.
-- A few subscribers

A. We have not changed the amount of national and world coverage that we offer. We strive to select stories from our wire services that add depth, texture and analysis to the news summaries found online or heard over the airwaves. Our goal is to add to what many people have already read online or heard on radio and TV, not merely repeat it. However, we are providing far less national entertainment and celebrity coverage than we used to; there’s plenty of news like that on TV and elsewhere, and I suspect you probably would applaud that decision!

-- Sandy Duerr

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Crime, Zac Efron and prep sports ... get the latest on www.sanluisobispo.com

The show of sound and light that kept so many of us awake early Thursday crackled on our Web site a few hours later – with photos from our own photographers as well as those submitted by readers countywide and a story on why the freak summer storm occurred.
By noon, our photo gallery boasted about 30 images as well as a video. By evening, we had two videos.
This is a great example of how online is allowing us to interact with you in ways never available before – and, at the same time, give you access to more information, quickly.
Our reporters routinely write stories first for http://www.sanluisobispo.com/, and offer deeper stories with more context for the next day’s Tribune. In the case of the summer storm, Tribune readers received a full report in Friday’s edition, including four dramatic photos.
Beyond reacting immediately to county news events, our online staff led by Online Editor Sally Buffalo has launched or improved several other parts of our Web site recently so that we’re more useful to readers. Here’s a closer look:
Crime map: You can now view all incidents reported to the San Luis Obispo Police Department each day on a map – in a certain neighborhood or on a certain street, for example -- and search based on type of crime and date. We are working to obtain similar information from the county’s other police departments. Check it out at www.SanLuisObispo.com/crime/ We will continue to cover the major crimes in our daily police blotter in The Tribune, but this gives you access to all incidents reported to SLO police daily.
Prep sports: You can get schedules, rosters and statistics of your favorite local prep football teams. We eventually plan to expand this to other sports. Our link: www.sanluisobispo.com/prepsports
Zac Efron: Want to keep track of our national teen idol from Arroyo Grande? Check out our special coverage and link to blogs and noteworthy articles about him. We’ve also included Efron photos e-mailed to us by readers. Our link: www.sanluisobispo.com/zac/
Explore SLO County: If you’re hosting visitors, trying to pick out a restaurant or find out where to hike, head to this section of our site. In addition to the 200 local restaurant reviews, complete winery listings, wine itineraries, hotel listings and outdoor activities, you can now find a wealth of information to advise out-of-town guests how to get here and get around (airports, trains, renting cars and parking). We’ve also added a guide for those interested in getting married here, along with new videos and slideshows, including one on tasting wine. Our link: www.sanluisobispo.com/living/explore/
Latest movie, TV show information: We wrap up all the new movies, TV shows, DVDs, music and more and update it every Friday. You can also find movie trailers for new releases on our entertainment page, www.SanLuisObispo.com/entertainment/ And for entertainment junkies, we offer audio clips each week related to the world of entertainment.

-- Sandy Duerr