By Julie Pike, editor-in-chief
A question that comes up almost on a daily basis in the life of an editor, is being asked, or asking yourself, why is this story important? Why are we writing about this? Why do our readers want to know about this?
Being a journalist is about more than just writing, it’s about understanding what you are writing for. Editors need to be confident that what they are choosing to publish is going to benefit their audience. If a story isn’t deemed worthy it shouldn’t make it to print.
The debate of what is newsworthy and what is not is one I’m tackling on a daily basis, and it’s often a decision that I can’t reach by myself. Luckily there are several people at the paper that I can discuss my situation with. However, ultimately what does get decided to be published is completely left up to the editor-in-chief. That also means that any backlash we may receive, the editor-in-chief will have to handle it.
That’s why with every story that gets published in the Free Press, I want our writers and editors to have a solid argument as to why they are writing that piece. This way we keep ourselves at a high journalistic standard, and only print the stories that are worthwhile.
At its most basic level the press exists to provide people with information. In doing so we are also working to find and tell the truth. The Elements of Journalism describes journalism as “storytelling with a purpose.”
So how do you decide what story is worth telling? Personally I think it’s important to tell a story about something new, something that people don’t know about already. If we are talking about an already widely covered topic, there needs to be something else that we can add to it.
As a weekly newspaper we aren’t exactly the go-to platform for breaking news, since the paper doesn’t usually come out in time to do that. With our stories we can take the time to craft a piece about a more dense topic. This has to be kept in mind when we are deciding what to write about, focusing on stories that are longer lasting.
With that in mind, it can still be difficult to determine what will make a good story. The American Press Institute states that, “creating a good story means finding and verifying important or interesting information and then presenting it in a way that engages the audience.”
The topic of a good story needs to be relevant or significant to readers, and it needs to include verified sources from more than one viewpoint. The second part isn’t always easy. Sometimes we are not able to get both sides to comment on an issue. However, I think that a person refusing to comment says a lot about their side of the matter.
MediaCollege.com lists five different factors to use when determining what makes a story newsworthy, including the timing, significance, proximity, prominence and human interest of a story. Human interest stories can sometimes disregard the other factors, as they are longer lasting stories, don’t have to affect a large number of people and can take place in any part of the world.
Moving forward with my time at the Free Press I hope to create specific guidelines for our editors and staff writers to use when determining whether or not they have found a worthwhile story. I also want to encourage writers to have an in-person discussion with either another staff member or their editor about their assignment. In doing this, I think it will help our writers have a better understanding of what they are writing about, and why it’s important. Sometimes it can be difficult to formulate that idea into words, so talking about it often helps the writer realize the central point of their story.
When it comes down to it, I know that in my role as editor-in-chief I’m here to defend what my writers produce, because I’m the one who ultimately chooses to publish it. If I don’t feel that an idea for a story will be worth including in the paper, I will speak up. I want our paper to be for the readers, producing the stories that they want to see. Sometimes these stories may seem controversial or difficult to talk about, but our entire staff works hard to ensure that we remain unbiased in our writing. Overall we just want to provide the truth to the community of USM, because if we don’t, who else will?