Magazine article Editor & Publisher

You Be the Editor - Revisited

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

You Be the Editor - Revisited

Article excerpt

IT'S TIME TO revisit the questions I posed in this space several months ago They involved five situations calling for good news judgment: E&P readers were asked to say what they would do if they sat in the editors, chairs. Twenty-eight people responded.

When the original column ran in the Hartford (Conn.) Courant, more than 300 readers sent in their answers. I also put the questions to some of the top editors at my newspaper, and their replies are reported here too.

Needless to say, this quiz shouldn't be confused with scientific opinion polls. It doesn't rely on random polling, so it may not reflect what most people really think. Still, I believe it's useful to see how some readers and some editors said they would tackle these tough cases.

In case number one, the question was whether to print a dirty joke told in public by a politician.

A little less than two-thirds of the E&P respondents said that in such a case it's appropriate to show exactly what all the fuss was about.

"We bring a lot of reader distrust on ourselves by telling them our perception of what someone said, instead of reporting what actually was said," commented an Oklahoma publisher.

However, one-third of the E&P respondents disagreed. These statistics almost mirrored the replies of Courant readers. Almost 90% of Courant editors would allow it. I go along with them and the majority of readers--as long as the language isn't too raw. Then a paraphrase might be in order. (Several E&P respondents added this caveat too.)

In case number two, a story on unmarried teen-age parents is at issue. Should it be rewritten and rephotographed to emphasize mostly the problems?

In my scenario, I said, "The editors divide into two camps" on this, but that's not what happened when Courant editors really were polled. All of them voted to leave the story as is.

So did all the E&P respondents: 90% of the readers agreed with them, and I do, too. Here's the interesting part, however: 10% percent of readers said that a too-cheerful story should be redone. They might be among the people who have called me to complain when such stories actually appeared in the Courant.

Case number three resulted in the closest votes. It had to do with whether to publish the phone number of an abortion-rights organization.

A slim majority of E&P readers, 54%, said no. "This is a hot-button, issue. …

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