'Prove It'

Ombudsman

January 09, 1994|By ERNEST F. IMHOFF

When readers vent, I sometimes suggest that callers write a letter to the editor, though there is no guarantee it will be used because The Sun gets so many letters.

The readers may retort, ''You won't use it because it will be critical of The Sun.'' I say the editorial people purposely pick more letters critical of The Sunpapers than approving. The readers say, ''Prove it.''

OK. Here's the December 1993 count of letters published in The Sun, The Evening Sun and The Sunday Sun. I checked without consulting the editorial department.

Writers who criticized The Sun: 64 letters. Agreed with or praised The Sun: 23 letters. Criticized the media in general: 5. Praised the media: 1. Letters on subjects other than Sunpapers coverage: 169.

I checked some other reader ideas. Fans of the Police Blotter periodically complain that The Sun carries crime in disproportionate numbers from some districts: little or nothing, for instance, from Baltimore's Northeastern District. They are right. It has to do partly with unavailability of police records when reporters call by phone. (Reporters used to visit the city's eight districts each day, a practice unfortunately stopped years ago).

NTC In December 1993, The Evening Sun's Blotter reported only two crimes in the Northeastern District and just six in Eastern District, while reporting 54 crimes in the Northern District. The December figures can't be reflective of crime distribution in the city. The Blotter is not designed to show a total crime picture but a representative sampling in all areas, but sometimes it doesn't.

Several pro-Israel readers criticized a December 22 photo in The Sun showing an Israeli solder seemingly aiming his rifle in the direction of a Palestinian woman holding a baby. Readers had to read the caption to see that the soldier was actually aiming at Palestinian rock-throwers, who were not in the photo.

One caller said the ''misleading'' picture was a cheap shot, showing Israel as the bad guys, and one-sided: ''Where are the rock-throwers?'' Some photos can be seen different ways. I thought the picture could be seen the way the caller saw it, but another reader said it showed the irony of normal life trying to go on (mother and baby) while two sides fight nearby.

Two callers said The Sun's wire photos in recent weeks had an anti-Israel slant; they did not complain about printed stories, but said some readers look only at pictures. Keep in mind that The Sun has no photographers in the Mideast, the news varies, no coverage is mathematically 50-50, photo availability varies, photos are often chosen for their drama. Taking a step back sometimes helps; the photos may show an overall reality or an unfair slant. It may depend on one's outlook.

The Sun ran these Mideast photos in December: Four photos of Israeli soldiers, police or settlers aiming guns or detaining a Palestinian (on Page 1). Four photos of Palestinians walking by a burning tire, fleeing fighting on a bike, looking through broken glass (also Page 1) and mourning Palestinians shot dead by Israeli Jewish settlers.

Also, a photo of a Palestinian with a stone aimed at Israelis and one photo of a Palestinian boy holding a toy gun. Two photos of Jewish settlers and soldiers mourning Israeli Jews shot dead by Arabs in separate incidents. One photo of a Jewish settler lighting a menorah for Hanukkah. One photo of the new Palestinian police force.

Also, two photos near Israeli military roadblocks, one of Orthodox Jews dancing and in another, two Palestinian shepherds after a Palestinian stabbed an Israeli Jew.

A photo of Yasser Arafat and Warren Christopher meeting, two photos of Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres in Egypt, one with PLO negotiator Mahmoud Abbas. Three photos of Palestinians (one on Page 1) during the first public Christmas in six years in Bethlehem on the West Bank. Two photos at Christmas of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.

On another topic, I wrote that editors constantly face the challenge of selecting news nuggets from a news mountain. On the contrary, wrote Leonard L. Greif Jr., The Sun's December 12 Page 1 had no news but lots of ''non-news,'' advance stories speculating on what may happen.

Mr. Greif was right, because he picked a particular Sunday. Sunday newspapers sometimes have little hard news on Page 1. Saturday is usually a slow news day (bureaucrats are resting), Sunday is traditionally the day newspapers spotlight big stories (readers have more time to read) and deadlines are earlier Saturday night (papers are so big).

News also varies from day to day. On the day I got the letter, December 16, every story on The Sun's Page 1 was a hard-news story based on an event the day before. In any case, Mr. Greif -- and many readers -- prefer having some hard news out front.

Ernest F. Imhoff is The Sun's reader representative.

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