A delicate balance

A number of times in this column space, I have written about the everyday challenge to finding a balance of news to include in each issue of the newspaper. I’ve shared about the delicate balance between local, national and international news and commentary; and I’ve shared our internal process for evaluating which news from outside the region we think readers most want and need to know. I’ve described it as a bit of a puzzle, a challenging one, but also one of the things that makes every day (well, most days) at Minot Daily News interesting and challenging.

This past week, this has been a major theme around the editors’ table, because of a confluence of unrelated events.

First and foremost, Ward County and the City of Minot have been busy preparing budgets for next year, thrust against the backdrops of a tough economy and diminishing revenues; further complicated by such factors as the cost of flood control and questions about the necessity of dedicated funding. Outside of elections and the hiring of upper level administrators, few things are are relevant to the success of a government body than the budget; and nothing impacts taxpayers as much as the budget.

Now, Minot Daily News has reported extensively on the budget processes; and also opined on them. As asserted in the paper’s official editorials, the good news is that both city and county are doing pretty good jobs on their respective budgets.

The bad news: two hurricanes and the Northwest wildfires. Besides being bad news for obvious reasons, it was a challenge at Minot Daily News because we knew these were the big stories that people in Minot were talking about. Last week, maybe a half-dozen readers called or stopped me in public to ask questions about the city or county budget. Three times that number of people stopped me to ask about hurricanes, my experience having lived through dozens of them in Miami, and whether or not my family and friends back in Miami were safe (OK, so the latter I found extremely sweet and demonstrative of the decency of our neighbors).

So, professionally the challenge was how much space in the paper and how many human resources to dedicate to important local issues; and what to expend on the national stories that had people talking.

In developing a strategy, which we are still employing today, we took a few things into consideration. One, budget issues are important and, realistically, we are the only local source for in-depth coverage and editorial analysis. Two, most people are getting plenty of news on the natural disasters from other media, and it isn’t something to which we can add much locally. Yes, we usually find a way to find a local connection to a national story to bring a distant story closer to home. But our mantra here – as I have written many times – is local, local, local. Local is where we have no serious competition on an everyday basis. Local is our focus every day. Yet, we also know that our readers expect us to bring them the major headlines that interest them – and natural disasters interest most.

So, the solution was for us to remain focused on important local issues – budgets, construction updates, gun incidents in the vicinity of schools, the crime on our streets. Secondly came coverage of the two hurricanes and wildfires. We might have sacrificed a local item or two (although I hope not!) to bring people the national news they want, but again – balancing coverage is an art and not a science. If you ever hear a journalist say there is one successful formula….shhhhhh…it’s a myth.

So far, so good. I haven’t been accused of downplaying the natural disasters and certainly no one has complained that we haven’t been covering important budget issues. This doesn’t happen accidentally – it’s a result of considerable thought, planning and effort by my entire staff – and it dominated this week’s discussions around the newsroom.