Monday, May 19, 2008

News vs. advertising

I received a call this morning from a man who owns a cattle ranch near Cayucos. On the ranch is a home he rents to tourists who want to experience the ranching life. Such agritourism is a new way for ranchers to make some extra money from their main asset, their land. This caller was hoping we might do a story on his home and the piece of country he offers city slickers.
We often get these kind of calls. Our local news editors, Executive Editor Sandy Duerr and myself are targeted by business people who either suggest that stories be written about their enterprises, or they offer to write special columns for our readers, usually in a specific field, like money management or medicine.
Journalistically, we cannot promote one business at the expense of not writing about others in the same field. Nor can we let one business person have a speciality column when that person's competitors would not be granted such a status. If we did allow such coverage, we would be promoting that business owner over others. Journalistically, that is unfair, and the information is suspect.
Advertising, by contrast, is all about marketing one business or specialist. Someone spends their own money to buy space in our pages for their promotion.
This is a basic concept, but it is interesting how often I get asked by readers why we cannot "do a write up" about a certain commercial enterprise. We can't because it would be the wrong thing to do.
_ Tad Weber

Monday, May 12, 2008

Who makes front-page decisions - and when

Q. In the movie about Watergate, editors hashed out what news they were going to run on the front page. Do you do that and if so, when? And how many people are involved in those meetings?
-- Gary Dove, Rotary Club of Los Osos

A. We meet at least twice a day on weekdays and once on weekends, barring major breaking news when we meet more often. The local news editor, managing editor, presentation editor, online news producer and I initially huddle around 10:30 a.m. to discuss the day’s top stories, what we envision going online and what the next day’s front page might look like. We also get an update on our online traffic and which stories are attracting the most interest on our Web site,
We meet more formally at 2:15 p.m. with representatives from each news desk (business, sports, features and wires too), as well as our copy editors and page designers – about 10 to 12 people. Most of our decisions about the front page are made at this time. But we typically make the last call around 6 p.m. after we’ve had a chance to review the top state, nation and world stories that are just beginning to move on our wire services. After this, we review the front page as it is being designed to make sure the stories and photos are displayed where we think they should be.
If major breaking news occurs after this, some – or all – of this planning gets thrown out -- and we start over, on deadline.

-- Sandy Duerr