Your readers need to know they can count on you
In order for your newspaper to have a thriving circulation and healthy balance sheets, you need to provide your readers essential information on all the things of importance in their lives. We have discussed this in prior installments, and we will do so in great depth and detail in the future. But there are other aspects to the service you provide to your community, about the attitude you bring to it and the spirit your readers see in your work, things that show up in what you cover and how you present stories. If you get the spirit right, you’ll do right by your community and they’ll do right by you.
Let me just share a few thoughts on things that should contribute to your attitude and spirit of service.
✔ Your entire community should be able to count on you to be keeping an eye on everything of importance to them, especially on things that need their attention, and even more particularly on things that they can do something about, without the situation having collapsed into a catastrophe first.
✔ You need to always keep in mind just how important and valuable it is for you to maintain and publish an overview of the situation, a summary of the current status of everything you’re keeping an eye on. Your reporting provides awareness to the entire community, supports intelligent discussion and deliberation, and fosters unity among all the elements of the community.
✔ People need to have confidence that your reporting is thorough, reliable, accurate, meaningful and useful. You need to be extremely conscious of the need to gather and report everything that has any relevance to a subject you’re covering, in order not to ignore, omit, distort or otherwise screw up anything people really need to know.
✔ You need to stand by everything you report, as the ordinary person reads it. After all, you decide what sources to go to, what quotes to print, what information to include and how to present it all. Everyone in the community needs to accept that whatever they read in your coverage is thorough, reliable, accurate, meaningful and useful (to be repetitious, but only because these qualities are absolutely essential). As the little girl wrote the editor so long ago asking about the reality of Santa, “Pappa says, ‘If you see it in the Sun it’s so!’” That’s the confidence your readers need to have in your newspaper.
✔ You’re bound to get things wrong sometimes, by relying on sources that weren’t actually correct, overlooking or ignoring information that turns out to be important, misunderstanding something you actually had on paper right in front of you, whatever. What you reported could also have been “overcome by events,” and so is no longer correct even though it was when you first reported it. By maintaining, regularly updating and publishing an overview of everything of importance you’re covering, it is easy to fix these problems — and it’s also your responsibility to fix them. Whether and how you call attention to the fix is a judgment call, but you should expect your readers to respect you all the more for doing so and making them aware of the actual situation.
✔ You most certainly should provide plenty of space for analysis of complicated situations, discussion of potential actions, and expression of opinions, feelings and reactions — but these need to be fully separated from your coverage of events and circumstances.
✔ You should almost certainly keep your opinions and perspective to yourself. People are paying you to inform them so they can intelligently evaluate the situation for themselves, not to pre-chew their news and feed them conclusions.
✔ You should not only have the confidence that they will reach good conclusions themselves using their own mental and moral powers, you should expect to be regularly in awe of the ability of people to come up with solutions you didn’t think of.
✔ Your ability to influence your community for the better is tied firmly and closely to the quality of your reporting, to coverage that is thorough, accurate, meaningful and useful. If people trust your coverage and find it relevant to their lives, to understanding what’s going on around them, and to making decisions about how to deal with circumstances, they will read your paper regularly. If you have a broad circulation in the community and people trust in your reporting, you will foster a common awareness of the situation of the entire community, encouraging unity in thought and in action out of the diversity of perspectives people bring to the discussion.
✔ In other words, your success depends on the success of the entire community; the success of the community depends to an extent on how well you do your job; if you do your job well, both the community and your newspaper will thrive.
Last installment: Providing overwatch for all the important things
Next installment: Overwatch: the key to success