Heavy dose of good news

Published 9:43 am Saturday, March 14, 2009

We devote lots of space in our newspaper to people and institutions in Western Tidewater who are doing good things. That will never change under my leadership.

A newspaper worth its salt reports, without bias or exclusion, news of interest to its readers. That should be our only litmus test. If we apply it consistently, we will achieve balanced news coverage.

That balance can take several forms. One is geographic. In a small community like Western Tidewater, most of our news stories transcend geographic boundaries. Where they don’t, we have an obligation to inform citizens of Franklin, Southampton County and southern Isle of Wight County about their individual localities. We aim to do so in rough proportion to the number of readers we have in each.

In a diverse region like this one, racially balanced news coverage is important. To the extent that cultural differences result in varying news preferences, we must, as a newspaper serving the entire community, appeal to both black readers and white readers.

Applying the litmus test of newsworthiness also should result in topical balance. Many readers like government coverage, and we take our role as watchdog of the public trust seriously. Others don’t give a flip about government or politics; they’d rather read about sports, lifestyles, or interesting people and places. Balanced news coverage offers something for every taste.

The kind of balance I hear most about is our ratio of “good news” to “bad news.” A common refrain from readers is, “Why don’t you report more good news?”

Early in my publishing career, I’d get defensive and start listing all of the “good news” stories we’d done.

Now I accept the sincerity of the question. In troubled times, especially, folks want an occasional respite from discouraging news. When major employers cut jobs, when crime happens and when elected officials disappoint their constituents, it’s news. We have an obligation to report it and will continue to do so. Contrary to popular belief, our staff gets no joy out of that duty. The jobless and the victimized are our employees’ spouses, children, siblings, neighbors and friends. The community’s pain is ours.

Much more fun is to write about what’s working in our community rather than what’s broken. We do it year-round, but we redouble our efforts every March with publication of our annual Progress edition.

Every Sunday this month — encompassing some 70 pages in all — we are spotlighting, in a series of themed sections, the people, places and institutions (past and present) that are the fabric of this great community. We’re able to do so because of the support of our advertisers, who use the opportunity to tell their own success stories.

Some might say that publishing a “Progress” edition during an economic recession is oxymoronic. I disagree. Good work and good deeds continue — even increase — when times are tough. We enjoy telling those stories. We hope you enjoy reading them.