Sharing news with neighbors

Over the past year, I have written several times about the distinct personal relationship people have with their newspaper; a relationship unlike that people have with other businesses. Many people feel that their local newspaper is similar to a public utility, rather than a private business that operates under the same base model as any other business. There is a certain connection people have to a product that arrives at their home (like the mail) and provides mass communication to the public (like broadcast over airwaves owned by the public).

Sometimes people have a hard time internalizing the private business nature of the newspaper, or have a hard time understanding the need of a newspaper to share information selected by its importance and maximum input.

Case in point: people who want to communicate their news with others.

Every day of every week, we receive phone calls, snail mail and email from people who have “news” that they want to share. This could be anything from a favorite teacher retiring to an act of charity to a really good local bowling score. Or it could be that a knitting club finished a big project or it could be a landmark birthday. Inevitably we are asked to include the information in the newspaper, and therein rests the problem. When something is intensely personal to an individual, he often struggles with the idea that what’s important to them isn’t necessarily of compelling interest to most other people.

Re-read that last sentence again. It might seem obvious, but you know what – it isn’t all that easy to say to someone when he is enthusiastic. And yet, in a sense, it’s something we have to do all the time. Owing perhaps to the personal connection people have to their local newspaper, they anticipate that it should be an easy thing to “place” something in that newspaper.

However, while I have been just short of pleading with people to send letters to the editor, op-ed pieces, photos of the week, recipes and other specific items (with mixed results, let me point out), news pages are more limited. When it comes to random material submitted for news pages, the over-riding principles are that something must be of broad concern to readership or compelling importance to the community, or else must be so unusual or uncommon as to be specifically noteworthy.

So, here are a few tips for getting that item you want into the news pages at Minot Daily News:

®Be polite. You might be surprised how many people are not – even then they are asking for something.

®Be succinct. Whether calling or writing, front load the conversation with the information you are offering.

®Pick and choose. Before submitting something, ask yourself if you believe a neutral party would find the information compelling, significant to many people and/or unusual or unique.

®We love photos. That said, photos of check presentations, ground breakings and many other posed shots are newspaper poison – utterly cliche and usually a total turn-off to anyone not pictured in the photo.

®Don’t expect an immediate answer. Maybe your horseshoes club results are worth a paragraph blurb in the sports section, maybe an actual story down the line, or maybe none of the above. We might not be able to tell you right away what, if anything, can be done with your material. I have shared many factors that are taken into consideration. Truth be told, though, there are so many and they can vary so dramatically from day to day that it is impossible to explain to someone why something might make the paper and something might not. However…

®Be aware that it isn’t personal. It’s never personal. Whatever ends up happening as a result of your effort with Minot Daily News, it is a result of us doing our jobs to the best of our abilities. We do our best to accommodate reader requests, but our responsibility is to serve our readership as a collective. Sometimes those things are at odds.

We have whole sections of the paper that are built to be open forums for reader input and I hope to see continued contributions to the Opinion page, calendar listings, etc. Accessing news pages is a little more complicated, but it happens all the time. Following these tidbits of advice will help get your submission the kind of attention you want. It will also nurture that relationship with your newspaper.