Remember, idea is to print news on Sunday, too

Public Editor

February 04, 2007|By Paul Moore | Paul Moore,Public Editor

Each week, editors at The Sun face the challenge of making Sunday's Page One enticing for readers, new and old. Their aim is to stop a decline in readership for the paper's most valuable edition.

Reader "hooks" such as investigative pieces, sports, business and entertainment trends are a big part of the Sunday lineup. There are also narrative tales, like the five-part series that began on last Sunday's front page about a week in the life of Baltimore's Edmondson High's football team.

It was a story about much more than football. It vividly chronicled the lives, setbacks and aspirations of young athletes and their coaches in Baltimore city's school system. By its conclusion on Thursday, the series had received considerable praise from readers for its skillful reporting, writing and photography.

But the Sunday Page One, dominated by the Edmondson package, lacked something crucial: news. Readers are still looking for news on Page One and elsewhere in the paper and, for some, The Sun's decision not to give front-page coverage of last Saturday's anti-war protest in Washington was a mistake. A story and photos appeared on the Maryland section front.

Said Elizabeth Lunt: "I was dismayed by The Sun's coverage of the march in Washington. Putting it in the Maryland section instead of the front page was totally backward. While it was interesting to see how the march affected and motivated local families to go the Mall, it was a national news story with larger implications. The march, even from a local angle, was certainly more important and timely than the Edmondson High football team story."

From longtime reader Thomas Donellan: "I can't understand that on a day when a serious demonstration against the war in Iraq occurred 50 miles away, The Sun's front page on Sunday was completely devoid of news. I understand the need for different kinds of stories, but I think the front page is often too soft. Whether one agrees with the views of the marchers or not, this was an event of note."

Elizabeth B. Steele said: "The decision to relegate the coverage of the anti-war march to the Maryland section is a reflection of what The Sun considers news of national importance. I found The Sun's decisions not only disturbing but perplexing. As my son prepared to leave his family for a second tour of duty in Iraq, this choice sickens me."

The decision to send a reporter and photographer to Washington was made ahead of time. Assistant managing editor Marcia Myers, who directs The Sun's national and foreign coverage, said: "Demonstrations in Washington are routine, so we ordinarily don't cover them unless the circumstances or numbers of people are significant. In this case, everyone agreed we should cover it, given the timeliness and the intense public debate about the war in Iraq."

Editors then had to evaluate the protest's newsworthiness and gauge how the story and photos compared with other stories contending for front-page play.

Kathleen Best, an assistant managing editor who oversees The Sun's Sunday front page, explains her thinking on the war protest story: "I had conversations during the week with our Washington bureau about the protest's potential size and its relative significance. It was, indeed, the first big protest after the mid-term election. But there have been larger marches elsewhere since the war began. The speeches Saturday did not break any new ground, so I did not see enough to justify bumping from Page One the first part of a five-day narrative project."

Best also said running the story in the Maryland section allowed the newspaper to better display photos of the protest.

The decision not to put the protest story or any Iraq news article on last Sunday's front page - a choice I disagree with - takes place in the midst of a larger journalistic discussion over the content of a front page. News stories that break early in the day are sometimes slighted because editors assume that TV, the Internet and radio have already provided readers with the information. I recognize the need for offering trend stories, "news you can use" pieces and narrative tales, but newspapers can never afford to ignore their essential ingredient - news.

In this instance, I think it was possible to have a front page with both the Edmondson High series and a news article about events in Washington. Yes, there would have been limited or no space for protest photos on Page One, but the photos could have been handled on an inside page.

At a time when President Bush's plan to send an additional 21,500 American troops to Iraq is being examined in Congress, the war in Iraq is more than ever the most important continuing news story in the nation.

Many readers still depend on newspapers to report on and explain the most important news of the day. Even in this changing media environment this basic desire should be kept in mind.

Paul Moore's column appears Sundays.

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