War is not our franchise

“Local news is our franchise,” the executive editor told the newsroom of the News & Record of Greensboro, N.C. This was in 1990.

We’re hearing much of the same now, if not more so. The front page of another North Carolina newspaper, The News & Observer, illustrates the “local first” news philosophy.

The lead story is about the installation of crosswalks and other efforts to help pedestrians on a main road through Raleigh. The centerpiece is a local angle on the problem with toys made in China. At the bottom corner is a report of bombings in Iraq that killed about 175 people. (Click on the image here for a better view. You can see the entire front page here at The Freedom Forum’s collection.)

The proponents of “local first” will argue that the Iraq story was widely available elsewhere, particularly online and on television. It isn’t exclusive and doesn’t break news. That information, therefore, is “old” by the time it appears in print the day after it happened. Perhaps that’s why other papers, such as The Charlotte Observer, didn’t even note this attack on its front page at all. (Greenboro mentioned it in a promo and put the story inside.)

This particular Iraq story does a good job of putting the bombings into context — this was the worst such attack since November 2006, and the target and location were atypical. And the toll is still stunning, even to those numbed by years of war news.

That makes the story’s position on this page unsettling. By placing this in a lower position on the page than news about toys and crosswalks, editors show their priorities, as they do every day in making such decisions. But are they the right ones?

UPDATE: The death toll in the bombings exceeds 250.

One thought on “War is not our franchise

  1. The Iraq story is “commodity” news — readers can get that story from lots of sources, thanks to the Internet. It’s not just that it’s old news.

    The local stories are what distinguish the paper from other news outlets. Those make the paper more special.

    I’m not saying it’s unimportant to guide readers about what is big news, but this idea that news can be a commodity may be relevant.

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