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News judgment is a fine line

Richard Somerville, Editor
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The problem with trying to produce a mass-circulation newspaper is that you can’t please everybody, but you are still expected to make a stab at it. It’s a fine line to walk.

I know it’s hard to believe, but people occasionally call or e-mail us to complain about The Union. Sometimes it’s when we have a misspelled word or other mistake. In those cases, we are obviously in the wrong, and swear to try to do better.

The calls I am talking about, though, have to do with news judgment, and those are harder to deal with because our readers are a diverse lot, with diverse ideas of what is a good newspaper – or more precisely, what is a bad one.



A recent example is the Oakland Raiders fan who wants her team’s game on Page One of the sports section every week, even if they lose or are playing a weak opponent. So, when we made a decision one week to showcase the game between the two top NFL teams at the time, Green Bay and Tampa, putting the Oakland story inside with what we call a “teaser” headline on Page One, the fan went ballistic.

Now, we recognize there are a lot of Raiders and 49ers fans here, as well as Kings, Warriors and Sharks fans, too. But there are fans of other teams, and sometimes their games have wide interest among our readers, too.




Rabid fans, however, don’t acknowledge that, because for them what is important is not that their team is covered (which we always do), but that is covered more prominently than any other team or sport. It is a form of off-the-field competitiveness.

For instance, a fellow called to complain because we didn’t run the NFL standings every day. We explained we run it three times a week, after games that change the standings. But he was adamant that we should forget the hockey standings if we needed to keep the NFL stats. “Who cares about hockey?” he asked. Well, maybe a few thousand NHL fans.

Some folks were upset that a photo of Supervisor Bruce Conklin was on Page One on Thursday instead of Drew Bedwell, the man who defeated him. We explained that we did it because the story was about Conklin’s recount bid and his failure to overturn Bedwell’s win. We had a quote from Bedwell, which was a coup, because he is under a palm tree somewhere in Hawaii.

The reader heard our assurances that we will be paying plenty of attention to Mr. Bedwell in the future, but she was skeptical: “I certainly hope so.”

Yesterday, we ran a column about President Bush’s post-9/11 assassination directive. It was blunt and strongly worded, although no more so than many columns about Clinton at the height of his hanky-panky. The column was chosen because of another reader’s complaint that we hadn’t run anything about the directive.

People have told me that Nevada Countians like a rough-and-tumble dialogue about issues on their opinion page. But as one angry man – a regular reader – admonished me yesterday, there are limits, and we had crossed them.

So we are continually learning how to walk that fine line . . .

Richard Somerville is editor of The Union. His column appears each Saturday.


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