News: around the world and back

A couple of years back now, there was a major sports event on the calendar – something that really had the town excited and which was bringing people to the area. My then-sports editor, early on, asked about the possibility of the event making the front page of the newspaper, as opposed to the Sports section. I had been told that this was uncommon at Minot Daily News or had been for some time. But I liked the idea for a number of reasons: the game was big news, my sports staff was committed to the idea, complete with design components, and I do think that in a community newspaper, local sports are often the big news.

The plan was set, the design concept known and shared by staff and the game under way. All was going as planned, right?

Well, a not-so-funny thing happened on the way to production that night. Later in the evening, a story broke on Associated Press about a terrorist strike in Europe. So, what to do? The choice was to pull the sports story, de-emphasize it on the cover and run big with the AP story; or else, keep the local sports lead and run the AP story as secondary news. There wasn’t a lot of time to make the decision, but ultimately I stuck with the local lead.

Over the next day or two, I heard two things from readers. One was appreciation for the sports coverage on the front page. The other thing was surprise and even anger that the AP story was nestled elsewhere in the paper as opposed to dominating the front page.

As I have written before, composing a front page is more art than science. I’ve shared before the attempt at balancing various types of content. This week, though, I wanted to address the use of wire service material for national and international news, in this case the Associated Press. AP has enabled newspapers to access a data base of regional, national and international. Basically, AP subscribers enhance AP staff with material chosen from subscribers. Thus, much of the content of Minot Daily News is available to AP subscribers and other newspapers around the world can use the material if they chose too. AP’s history is too long to get into in this space, but it is generally still an esteemed institution.

Here, we use AP pretty much as intended – to be able to give people news from afar (or as near as Bismarck sometimes). While our focus is fiercely local, a weird thing happens when we have a good news cycle and national and international news shrinks from the paper. My phone rings or I open a few emails and am chastised for not covering (via AP) something that happened in federal D.C. or a tennis tournament in Europe. You just never know…

How we chose AP is part of that evolving, fluid thing. It is rarely random. At the very least, I prioritize wire news from a short digest of material organized by categories. Major headlines are obviously important to consider. Part of it is observing other media, listening to people, trying to sense the zeitgest. There is also readership to consider. Stories about military action, conflict and potential U.S. involvement are a priority here. Economics relative to energy and agriculture. I am more likely to run a national story based in Arizona than I would, say, Alabama, because we have many regional residents who spend ample time in the former. We’re sensitive to a number of things such as these.

On our better days, there is some symmetry to be found between local and out of market material. Those are good days. Those are the days that make it all worth it. Those are the days that make newspaper newspaper.

As much as we are focusing on covering our region intensely, the truth is that news requires context. Personally, I can’t imagine living somewhere and not being informed and engaged at the local level. But I also would feel as if I was living under a rock if I weren’t aware of what’s happening in the world – because, these days, it will somehow probably affect someone or know or my own neighborhood one day.

Ultimately, I am still undecided on the sports cover decision.