Local coverage gets first priority

Sunday, June 12, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 1:44 a.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008

Dear Reader,

The classic debate over community newspapers — local news vs. big national happenings — came up in the newsroom last week.

On Tuesday, one editor complained that the deciding game of the NBA Eastern Conference finals had been underplayed on Page 4 of the Sports section. He said more people were interested in that game in Miami than in a children’s fishing clinic at Rocky Fork Lake, north of Columbia.

As spectator sports go, I’m sure he was right, but he had little support at the newsroom critique session. The fishing clinic, held in memory of the late Leroy Rottmann, was a local event with local people in a community that expects local coverage. Our first priority — the first thing I tell incoming reporters — is to the people of Columbia and mid-Missouri.

There will be a verdict in the Michael Jackson trial, perhaps Monday, most likely this week. Is that front page news, or Page 4 of the news section?

Jackson influenced generations of Columbians. I had 78s (what my daughter calls big CDs) of The Jackson 5. The King of Pop affected the way college students dressed. Remember the moonwalk?

There are serious questions, too. How do parents talk to their children about the case and about his music? Do you separate the art from the artist?

I can — and probably will — argue that the Jackson verdict is locally meaningful, even if it’s not local. Unless some other argument wins the day, you’ll most likely see the story on the Missourian’s front page.

The argument that you need at least some national and international news worked 20 years ago. I fear it doesn’t work today. Even as I wrote the paragraph above, I began poking holes — there are just so many more outlets for news today, from so many more sources. The Missourian can give you unique content when it comes to local information.

Can we say the same for anything else?

What if, dear reader, you woke up tomorrow and there was no wire news or opinion in your Missourian? Would you still find it valuable and credible?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Tom Warhover

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