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Front Page » February 10, 2004 » Opinion » News agencies work in different and strange ways
Published 3,719 days ago

News agencies work in different and strange ways


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By RICHARD SHAW
Sun Advocate

While I probably have one of the funnest jobs in the whole world, it is often very frustrating too. And one of the most frustrating things is when I have spent a great deal of time and effort staying close to people and organizations so that we can get news they have to the public and then the next thing I know I see a local story on one of the Salt Lake television stations or in one of the upstate newspapers.

When that happens we inevitably get calls asking how come we didn't cover that particular story. Often we just don't know about it.

More disconcerting even than that however, is when there is a local story, and it gets on one of the upstate news services and it turns out that half of what we find reported there is either half truths or non-truths. And sometimes it is a story that we have policies against carrying, while the upstate press seems to revel in the hog wash that is being printed.

As a community newspaper, our policies and goals are different than that of regional television or newpaper outlets. Certainly it is our charge to print the news, but we often have to temper that with the fact that we try extremely hard to get the facts correct, because our personal accountability is much higher than theirs is. They come to Carbon County and interview someone or pick up bits and pieces of a story from multiple sources, many of which they have no idea are reliable, and then generate a story to beat the competition, both in time and in sensationalism.

We on the other hand report on people we will see again and have to own up to if we get it wrong or if we skew it to make it a "better" story.

Few people who have lived here for any length of time can forget when the Salt Lake television station came down here and interviewed teenagers on Main Street on a night when many of the kids were at a big dance at the high school. They took the negative the kids said and emphasized it on their broadcast. Almost everyone was mad about what was said about Price in that story.

Now translate that propensity to a regular news story. If they sensationalize and change the facts in a story that just consists of an interview on Main Street at 8 p.m. in the evening, what do you think they would do with a murder or abuse case.

We try very hard to just deal with facts. That means official sources that can be verified. You may see a comment at a meeting we attended attributed to a "citizen" but when it comes to getting the news we seldom use witnesses or those who speculate in a new story about a serious situation. And while we don't always get it right, we also care if we don't and we will run corrections. We even sometimes run corrections when no one calls our attention to a mistake, but we discover it ourselves.

When I see something in a Wasatch Front newspaper or on a television station that happened here, I seldom am concerned about being "scooped" but I become more worried about how and what was reported. Serious crime and circumstances never make a community look good, but depending on how it is reported, it can certainly make it look much worse than it is, especially if stories are filled with errors.

The television reporters and newpaper people from upstate do not need to live in this community. Once their story is done, seldom do they ever see the people they are doing a story on again.

For us it is a different situation. We need to be correct as much as possbile because when we aren't, we truly hear about it, and not only on the telephone at work, but at the gas station and in the check out line at the grocery store.

Sometimes by waiting for the "real" story and by using official and verifiable outlets for our sources, we can be a little slower on the uptake when it comes to local stories. But personally, and I believe for the good of the community and individuals in that community, I would rather be a little slower in getting a story out and getting it right, than being first and getting it wrong.


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