Friday, September 10, 2010

How to take things out of context

At Save the News, there is a lengthy rant about AP's guidelines for members on what stories to share. The author rants against "the AP’s editorial submission guidelines [that] are doomed to produce mind-numbing, paranoia-inducing stories that are neither informed nor newsworthy."

AP, as you might expect, tells members it wants major crashes, major public figures and meetings where major decisions are made, etc. It does not want the all-to-common inner-city murder but wants the ones from the hustings where murders are not common.

OK, that last one, from the Ohio guidelines, is written a bit insensitively. But overall the rant is misguided.

The writer rants:
Read: no news coverage of low-income people and people of color being killed in urban areas. Tough luck if your brother/mother/son/daughter gets murdered in the city. Bor-ing. And pay no attention to those city council meetings – you know, where decisions are made about our communities; they’re not worth the column inches.
It’s no secret that the news – especially local news -- often leaves something to be desired. We rarely see coverage of stories that truly matter to our communities, or in-depth reporting that gets to the bottom of an issue, instead of just skimming the surface. And these AP guidelines offer an alarming glimpse into the mentality of our media system. 
 No they don't. They offer a glimpse into the reality of a worldwide news service with limited resources that has to prioritize. As an AP news editor, the first question I had to ask myself in the morning was has anything happened here that people in Stockholm would care about? Ok, how about folks in Toledo? OK, how about folks in the neighboring states? Finally, how about folks in cities outside of this one in this state.

AP is not in the business of covering city council meetings unless they produce news that is actually news outside that community. Those murders, well, yes, it is true that AP is reinforcing the stereotype often expressed in the label "quiet community," which is code for white and middle-class. And there are times I think AP needed to rethink some of its knee-jerk decisions in those cases - as does the entire news industry. But AP does not have the resources to cover every murder, every council and sewer commission meeting, etc., even if freelancers or papers sent the copy.

And, guess what, many states now have news-sharing systems among papers that could easily dump such stories on their version of the wire. But they don't, or if they do, other papers don't run them. What does that tell you?

As Brian Cubbison noted in the comments, the rant ignores that AP writes "big picture" pieces that in the long run may do a lot more good in bringing public attention to the epidemic of inner-city murders, for instance. Or unhealthy workplaces. Or that numerous city and town councils are agitating for immigration changes by taking things into their own hands.

Were I still at AP, however, I'd be much more worried by these Twitter comments from John Robinson, editor in Greensboro, N.C.:
@howardweaver @jayrosen_nyu I don't know AP's guidelines for NC, but the state buro files little stuff of value anyway.

@howardweaver In fact, w/out McClatchy Reg. wire, we'd be SOL for state stories outside our region. (Thx for your tutelage of successors)

 I can attest that the opinion is shared by several S.C. members (who now are served by a consolidated Carolinas operation) and by more than a few in other states with whom I have talked.



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