So much news and so little space.
At least that used to be the excuse in the exclusively print days when council gadflies or backyard inventors would ask why their news wasn’t in the paper.
Now, though, we in the news business have unlimited space on the Web – although never enough journalists to fill it. Social media and blogs of all kinds have rushed to fill the gaps, but not necessarily in fair, accurate and balanced ways.
It’s that last attribute – balance – that has gotten journalism in trouble lately as readers want to move on from “he said, she said” accounts to context and even judgments about what is most important for them to know.
Some in the profession call it “weight of evidence” journalism: Rather than give equal time to the tiny minority of scientists who challenge climate change, for example, reporters have moved on to how to mitigate it or at least adapt to it. As a story in the New York Times about a psychology experiment demonstrated, experts still carry weight with readers even when they are far outside the mainstream, so avoiding false balance can be just as important in some cases as trying to get a range of opinions and voices.
We were faulted by some readers on the latter in our brief survey of students and community leaders on allowing guns on NAU’s Mountain Campus. Officials on campus and in Flagstaff have put up a solid front in calling the proposal a bad idea, especially with the Steven Jones shooting fresh in their minds. But there are, no doubt, some students and citizens who disagree, and their positions should have been more fully explored in the story, some said.
Had this been the first time we covered guns on campus, I might agree. But this is at least the third session in which lawmakers have introduced a guns on campus bill, so we have gone into the pros and cons before. The story was more a snapshot of what people are saying today, including online comments. So far, it’s safe to say opinion in Flagstaff is solidly against guns on campus, and our story reflected that.
Not all stories, however, should simply reflect what the majority of a newspaper’s community is saying. Journalists have long questioned the status quo and defended the underdog against entrenched interests. But when a politician is just plain wrong about the majority of Mexican immigrants being criminals or that the measles vaccine causes autism or that voter fraud is rampant, they need to be called on it without wasting a lot of time on whatever faux expert they are relying on as cover.
On the other hand, there are many public policies that are not reducible to easily proven answers. Balancing privacy vs. national security, affordable health care vs. individual rights and public safety vs. the Second Amendment call for some in-depth reporting of the options and their tradeoffs. But it’s the simplistic, polarizing approaches at either end of those issues that seem to be gaining traction on the presidential campaign trail, and that’s where weight-of-evidence reporting needs to come down the hardest. Candidates are entitled to their opinions, but not their own set of facts. Until most everyone (with the help of journalists) can agree on the latter, voters risk being swayed by politicians telling them what they think they want to hear—not what they should be hearing.
New Year, New Design
Alert readers of the print edition have noticed the Daily Sun has a slightly different look, with newer typefaces and larger headlines and photos. Graphic design and layout are somewhat subjective, but every publication can stand an occasional retooling, if only to give readers a different look to what we hope is still compelling content. There have been the usual first-week glitches (we heard you on highlighting the calendar entries), but the rollout in general has been about what we expected. What about you?