Producing a weekly community newspaper is at best a difficult undertaking.
Human beings have a tendency to do a whole lot of stuff that could be considered newsworthy, and trying to pack it all into three-section, 26-page format each week presents a series of ongoing challenges.
Probably the greatest of those challenges is pretty basic: Gathering all the information people want (or need) to learn about or have confirmed. And one of the main reasons that challenge is so big is also pretty fundamental: We don’t always know about everything there is to gather.
What, you say? How can that be? Your cast of a thousand reporters should know everything there is to know about what’s going on around here – and more!
On the contrary, we only have a few sets of eyes and ears focused on the community and surrounding area, and believe it or not we don’t know everything there might be to know.
I frequently hear people ask things like, “why wasn’t anyone taking pictures at the big event the other night?” Or “why wasn’t there anything in the paper about the person who did that incredible thing?”
Very often there’s a simple answer: Because we had no idea about the big event or the person’s amazing feat. Think about it: How could someone know about something if they’re not somehow informed?
You’d be surprised how many “events” and “amazing feats” take place without anyone letting us know. And sometime, even if we know, we can’t “get there” for the same reason I already mentioned: There’s only a few of us.
A great example of what I’m rattling on about took place a couple of weeks ago right in the front of the Herald office. A woman came in and I greeted her, and she asked another question I hear with significant frequency: “Who decides what is printed in the paper and what’s not?”
My reply was pretty much as it always is: “It’s sort of a collective thing, but it really boils down to the publisher and editor.”
The woman then said something like, “Well, I keep seeing all these articles about men being charged with sexual crimes, but why hasn’t there been a story in the paper about the woman charged with rape?”
I was like, “the woman?”
She proceeded to tell me what I later found out was an accurate story about just that – a woman who had been charged with statutory rape several months ago stemming from an incident that took place more than a year ago. After researching the matter, I called the office visitor back and simply apologized for not knowing about the situation before, explained that I had no idea how that one got past us and promised that now that we were aware, we would report on the case.
I also thanked her for the “heads-up” and said, “in a perfect world, nothing would get by us that way.”
She trumped that statement by saying, “in a perfect world we wouldn’t be reporting on something like this.”
“That’s a great point,” I said.
I guess the bottom line is that the few of us at your local fish-wrap who are tasked with gathering and sharing the bountiful information generated by the humans who live in Houston and Texas County do what we can to make that happen in the best way possible. We’re also aware of the fact that we’re never going to do it perfectly.
It’s simply impossible: There’s too many people, too much stuff and not enough of us. If that sounds like an excuse, that’s because it is.
Among the many definitions of the word “excuse” listed by Dictionary.com are “a ground or reason for being excused” and “an explanation offered for being excused.”
With that in mind, here are a few things to consider:
•Because of the volume involved, we can’t know about everything.
•Because of the numbers involved, we can’t “cover” everything we do know about.
•It’s a great idea to let us know about anything you think we should know about (don’t assume we already do).
•It’s a great idea to have a camera – and a person who can use it – at the ready when you’re part of an event you think is newsworthy (we absolutely love “submitted” photos and information – especially when they’re good).
Anyway, please excuse us for the imperfections inherent to our duties. And rest assured, we appreciate a job well done as much as anyone (actually, maybe more in a lot of cases) and we’ll never relax or relent in our effort to do our best.
And please understand that we’re not burdened by the desire to pursue excellence and try really hard, but rather motivated by it.
Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald.