Local coverage doesn't have to be parochial



When readers complain about The Sun's increasing focus on local news, I point to a steady flow of stories that transcend labels and offer a rich weave of local, regional, national and even global issues. Consider these recent examples:

An Oct. 17 front-page news article by reporter Paul Adams that documented how worldwide energy economics will drive record-high heating oil prices in the Baltimore region this winter.

An Oct. 20 news article about the theft in Baltimore of a tanker filled with 7,000 gallons of diesel fuel. Terrorism was at first suspected, but later it appeared that the cargo had been stolen because of its value in a time of record oil and gas prices.

Julie Bykowicz's Oct. 21 front-page report on efforts in Philadelphia to confront a murder epidemic that parallels - from a hundred miles away - Baltimore's situation.

Frank Roylance's Oct. 23 front-page centerpiece about how Maryland's extended drought is linked to national and global weather trends, which some scientists suspect may be tied to global warming.

All of these reports had a local focus but none was parochial.

Such stories are no accident. Sun journalists understand that increasingly sophisticated readers expect more than the bare facts of local news. They want articles that connect the dots between events here and global trends. Reporters who do this well are rewarded with Page One play as editors aim to draw readers with unique value-added enterprise.

Adams' article, "Rising Cost Of Staying Warm," documented how households heating with electricity can expect bills about 50 percent higher than a year ago, while those using natural gas will see a 10 percent increase and those using fuel oil can expect a 22 percent rise. In my view, The Sun made a good decision to report and publish this story early in the fall because it gives consumers more time to make adjustments and plan for the winter. This is a good example of "news you can use."

Said reader Kevin Zeese: "I saw your article on the rising cost of energy. Sadly, this will be a long-term trend, I fear. We bought a house in Charles Village and my partner and I are in the process of `greening' it - reducing energy use and then we will figure out the best ways to produce energy."

Sometimes a news story that does not get great attention still says volumes about the times we live in. Take the hijacked tanker article, which appeared on The Sun's Maryland section front. The article, "Fuel-laden tanker hijacked from Curtis Bay, emptied," began early Oct. 19 when the truck was stolen at gunpoint from a south Baltimore fuel depot. After an all-day search by authorities from several states, the tanker was found abandoned and empty in Washington.

The theft had prompted fears of terrorism among readers and bloggers, but Homeland Security and FBI officials later discounted them. Two days later, The Washington Post and later The Sun reported that the missing 7,000 gallons of diesel fuel had been found hidden in a storage tank at a Washington gas station.

A number of online readers followed and responded to The Sun's first article.

John T. said: "Wow, some people are severely distraught over the rising gas costs."

Said George W.: "The only thing that makes sense is to empty the tanker, fill up an empty tank at a gas station that sells diesel. Someone got cheap fuel and will make a bundle."

Bykowicz's article from Philadelphia focused on 10,000 Men Philly, an organization that is trying to confront the soaring homicide rate there by "taking back the streets." The Sun packaged Bykowicz's article under its label "Confronting Crime: The Battle For Baltimore's Future," offering readers a firsthand look at how this group operates and what lessons it may have for Baltimore.

Said R. Dunn of Parkville: "I think this was a great effort by the supporters and organizers. It is symbolic and demonstrates that the community is concerned. I hope Baltimore follows suit."

Science reporter and weather blogger Roylance's front-page article, "No relief in sight for state: Drought could continue through spring," put conditions in Maryland into a larger perspective. The story also noted that the state's May-to-September cycle was the second driest on record in more than 100 years.

Steve from Baltimore responded: "Severe drought conditions? Some of the people in this region have no clue what severe drought is. This is more media doom and gloom reporting."

Roylance responded: "For the record, the term `severe' is the word chosen by the Department of Agriculture to apply to drought of a given severity under their individual criteria. It is not a word we dreamed up, nor is it the most severe category of drought. The USDA, for example, uses the terms `extreme' and `exceptional' for drought conditions even worse than ours, which currently prevail in the Deep South."

Paul Moore's column appears Sundays.

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