Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Whine, whine, whine

About a week ago, a guy who works here at the newspaper in another department asked me, "Why in God's name did you put that story about Mrs. Gordon's dog on the front page of the paper?"

What he was referring to was one of our regular Monday front-page features, "What's Up With That?" The story was about a lovable mutt named Shiloh who is quite the ham and loves to entertain the neighborhood with his extensive repertoire of tricks. The large photo was so good (it showed the dog looking down on Mrs. Gordon from a tree he had just climbed) that the night editor chose to place it at the top of the page.

"Wasn't there something going on in India, or something more important to put there?" he asked. "I mean, Cheee-rist! Mrs. Gordon and her dog!"

Of course, there is always something important happening in the world, even on Sundays, but we editors get the feeling that our readers don't appreciate being beaten over the head with it, day after day. And the truth is, although we try to report on what is happening all over the world, national and international news is reported more thoroughly by others; our specialty is local news. And when you get a local dog who climbs trees... well, it's just too much to resist.

Nevertheless, this is not a silly complaint. Many readers have come to trust our judgment about what news is most important. Every day, we take about 10 percent of the news that comes to us and print it, roughly in a sequence of importance. This is a valuable service that will be in demand no matter how the news is communicated in the future. And when we throw a wrench into the works - like printing a story about a tree-climbing dog at the top of the front page - we create disorder that makes some of our readers uncomfortable.

Yet, we continue to throw wrenches. We do that so as to remain unpredictable, because in this business, the predictable die.

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