by Kelly Hawes
A letter writer last week insisted that he had seen evidence of bias in the stories we had published about the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates.
“Sept. 2, there was an article about President Obama bashing Gov. Romney,” he wrote. “Sept. 3, there was an article about President Obama bashing Gov. Romney. Sept. 9, there was an article about President Obama bashing Gov. Romney. Sept. 10, there was an article about President Obama bashing Gov. Romney. There have been zero articles on Gov. Romney.”
I pointed out to him that the articles he mentioned appeared in the days surrounding the Democratic National Convention, so it was natural there would be stories in which the president would be critical of his Republican opponent. I also had to acknowledge, though, that we did not have a corresponding number of stories about Mitt Romney in the days surrounding his party’s gathering.
So that means the Pharos-Tribune must be slanting its coverage in favor of Barack Obama, right?
Actually, no. The amount of space we devote to news across the nation and around the world has a lot more to do with what’s going on in our neck of the woods than it does with what we think about the news elsewhere.
Every day, we try to fill much of our newspaper with news about what’s going on right here in Cass and surrounding counties. We generally fill our front page with what we see as the top local stories of the day. We fill page A3 with the police blotter, a selection of briefs and an occasional story or two in addition to the standard listing of calendar items and government meetings.
On page A2, we print that day’s selection of obituaries, and we devote the remaining space to a brief summary of what’s going on in the rest of Indiana and around the world. Often, that amounts to a selection of briefs.
What happens, though, when the whole page fills up with obituaries? Or when we have more local news than will fit on the front page and page A3?
Well, on those days we print little or no news from across the country and around the world.
And that’s pretty much what happened in this case. We printed less news from the Republican convention because we printed less news from anywhere outside Cass and surrounding counties.
Nonetheless, the reader made an important point. Though we believe our readers turn to us primarily for local news, we do recognize that they want at least a capsule of what is happening everywhere else. And we do our best to deliver that.
When the news of the day dictates that we provide less of a capsule, we know we’re letting down a segment of our readership, and we try hard to make those days the exception rather than the rule.
After going back to check our coverage of the conventions, I sent a note to staff members pointing out the disparity. We do need to give priority to local news, but we should also be aware of the kind of coverage we’re giving to state and national issues.
If we have four stories about President Obama, our goal should be to have an equal number of stories about Gov. Romney.
We won’t always succeed in that. Local news will always be our priority, so intervening factors might well lead to disparities like the one pointed out by the complaining reader.
We will do our best to be fair, and if you find evidence that we’re coming up short, I hope you won’t hesitate to let us know.