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Oct 08, 2007

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The CA

Cara, I predicted the N&R would ignore the Life Chain story on Sunday night because it was a pro-life rally, and that is the wrong side of the issue. As I said then, let 10 hippies gather downtown protesting George Bush, the war, etc, and that is front page news.

Predictable they have become young Skywalker.

Joe Killian

I could only speculate, Cara -- but I'll try to do that as honestly as I can.

I don't work out of the Greensboro office much anymore and on weekends the coverage sort of depends on what's happening and who's on. There's generally one reporter for everything on Saturday and Sunday.

I will say that I drove by along Battleground twice and, as I said to Sam, the number of people and the way they appeared didn't say to me: "Jesus...this is a huge thing!"

May have depended on the time of day you went by, or where.

Also, and again I'm just speculating, doing good PR for something like this is important. Reporters from newspapers and television stations don't show up to these things by accident - and they can't show up at all unless they know about it and don't already have something else they're covering.

Really well organized groups usually send press releases (it helps if they're more than boilerplate rhetoric and can give an accurate and believable crowd estimate), are contacted personally by members of the group, etc. I'm not talking about impersonally spamming your groups manifesto to everyone in media you can think of. That will make them think you're crazy and some annoyed reporter or editor will toss you in his computer's recycling bin. You have no idea how many press releases and calls for coverage even very small newsrooms get. For something like this, of this size, if I were you I'd give it a more personal touch.


You know reporters and editors at the N&R. How many did you or someone from the group contact about it? And how did you contact them? You and I have met and I'd like it if you considered me a resource and I could consider you a source, but I didn't get any e-mail about this going on. I don't think any reporter I know in the office did, either -- but I could be wrong.

This is important not because reporters are incapable of finding news on their own but because info has to come from somewhere and organized events are known about in advance almost exclusively by those planning or involved with them. If no one who is involved with the project contacts the media and contacts them in a way that's effective it's really not fair to, after the event has taken place, say: "They didn't even cover us!"

Why would they? Even if they learned about it by accident when no one who was planning it contacted them, would they have had enough good information about it to sell the story to their editors, to set up photography to ensure you get good placement, etc? Why would they have thought that this was a good allocation of their resources?

The reality at a lot of news outlets is that weekend shifts have one reporter. It helps to set up something ahead of time so they know what they'll be covering before they go into the shift and can set up photography (photogs are in short supply these days, too). If you can promise good images you're much likely to be covered and covered more prominently.

If something blows up, someone is killed or there is a horrible accident the one reporter or one camera crew on will have to cover that instead -- but on the few weekend shifts I've worked (I'll be working more in the new job) it's always helped to set something up beforehand or cover something breaking.

A protest is not really a breaking news story. It doesn't usually happen spontaneously and, unless there are arrests or injuries, it's not usually covered like a breaking news story. But that actually works to your advantage -- the more you can talk to a reporter before an event happens, the better for them and for you.

Say what you'd like about protesters on the left (and plenty can be said) -- but they generally do pretty good PR campaigns for their events. E-mails start as soon as they've begun planning and continue for weeks until the event, they call reporters they know and try to get some coverage before it happens, to drive up turnout and start discussion. Some right wing groups (the Minuteman Project and offshoots come to mind) do this effectively, too. Some left-leaning groups (including some in Greensboro) make real bonehead media decisions and don't get the kind of coverage they want. And sometimes we just don't cover their stuff because we don't think it's particularly newsworthy.

I have no idea what sort of PR was happening before this event -- but if you'd written or given me a call personally to talk to me about it, do you really think I wouldn't either have covered it myself, written an advance story or made sure it got on the radar? Plenty of other reporters at the N&R would have done the same -- and I promise you that if any of us had gone to our editors and said: "Hey -- there's going to be a big protest on Battleground over the weekend. Plenty of people and probably pretty good photos. The following churches will be involved..." -- none of them would have said: "Abortion? Nah."

It would have gotten covered.

But that's the thing about a protest, or any event that's set up and would benefit from media coverage. You can't just expect that because it's important to you it will be important to others -- especially those in media. You have to make the case to someone and give them enough notice and information to make the case to someone. They have to believe it's worth covering and get it covered. This is why people make a living in public relations -- because getting peoples' issues on the media radar pays.

Roch101

Come on, Sam. You're reaching. When is the last time you saw a local war protest on the front page? Your opinions of what drives the N&R's story placement is nothing more than pure speculation, unsupported by evidence and refuted by people in positions to know.

That said, placement is one thing, coverage is another. I would like to know why the N&R didn't cover the "Life Chain" demonstration.

Joe Killian

I'm not saying it shouldn't have been covered - far from it.

But let's not lose perspective, here. Did everyone but us cover it? I'm trying to find any coverage of it anywhere but the blogs of people who were involved and am not having a lot of luck.

Is it more likely that the leftist media cabal conspired to blackball this thing or that news outlets in the area simply didn't know it was happening?

Jonathan Jones

Roch and Cara,

I can only hazard a guess about why the 'Life Chain' demonstration wasn't covered, but I'd bet a big part of it is what Joe was talking about. Getting a bug in the ear of a reporter or editor can go a lot further in getting a story in the paper than a listing in the calendar.

I also wouldn't be surprised if the assigning editor knew about both events and had to make a decision, because as Joe pointed out, only one reporter is working the weekend shift.

If I was that editor, I'd probably have gone with the Jewish festival for the following reasons: It's new and is the main event for an important local institution's centennial celebration. That's contrasted with an annual, or perhaps semi-annual, abortion protest that goes back at least 15 years in Greensboro and which the paper has covered every few years.

A good argument for the protest would be that it has been a while since the paper gave it more than a few inches in the calendar, at least from my quick archive search, but I'd still probably have gone with the new, local festival over the older event.

But that's just the way one guy would've made the decision.

Joe Killian

Sam:

I understand that you believe that my newspaper just won't cover conservative issues, or will try to smear conservative protesters. I just can't for the life of me figure out why.

Over the last year I covered almost every major (and even some not so major) protest in Guilford County for the N&R. Ask the Minutemen, the Gathering of Eagles and the counter-protesters at various anti-war rallies how much I ignored them, how awful they felt about my coverage of their issues and their numbers, how I smeared them and made them look foolish. I have the e-mails of some group leaders who e-mailed to thank me for my balance and attention to them if you have trouble getting them.

The CA

I believe the last protest we had downtown when the hippies got arrested was on the front page. I could be wrong, but it was in the paper because Joe covered it. The Life Chain wasn't even covered.

I may be speculating about how the N&R covers story's but JR & Allen Johnson's words contribute heavily to that speculation.

Roch101

"I'd bet a big part of it is what Joe was talking about."

I'll buy that. Put it on my tab.

Joe Killian

That was on the front page. But there were far more than ten of them and it was on the front page because a bunch of people got arrested in a large protest on a weekday afternoon at a busy intersection in downtown Greensboro. One of them got Tasered.

Man bites dog and all that.

The CA

Joe, I'm not addressing this to you because you have little control over where stories end up and what gets covered as far as I can tell. I have never accused you of not being fair to anyone with the stories you write.

Jonathan, I don't think it is a zero sum. The N&R could have covered Temple Emanuel and the Life Chain. Ed's initial point was about cover stories, and I happen to agree that the Temple Emanuel story was fluff just as the Life Chain was fluff. By fluff I mean neither is really breaking news- they are scheduled events.

Both events were worthy of stories, but not front page material. However, the N&R often doesn't see it that way in my opinion, and for some reason it appears that they aren't even handed in deciding what protests should be on the front page.

Joe Killian

Also -- I'd love it if some of the people responsible for actually covering these things telling you how they're covered would contribute to how you speculate.

You know how many times JR's talked to me about how I covered something before I covered it? Zero. Any conversation I have with an editor about that would be several rungs below his level.

Allen Johnson doesn't even work in the newsroom. He has zero effect over news coverage. The only workday conversations I've ever had with him about stories have come from my going to his office to talk to him about it rather than the other way around.

Jonathan and I have worked in the actual newsroom, covered the actual stories, had the actual conversations with the on-the-floor editors to whom we report and who have to allocate resources. We're talking to you very honestly about how it works because questions have been posed. Believe us or not, but this is as close as you're going to get to it without signing on as a reporter yourself and a lot closer than many reporters I know at other papers would get with readers criticizing coverage.

Roch101

Sam, do you think calling peace protesters hippies is helpful (or even accurate)? Do you see anybody deriding the Life Chain protesters as Jesus Freaks or Bible Thumpers? I don't know why you can't resist inserting a little name-calling into an otherwise polite and insightful conversation.

Jonathan Jones

It shouldn't be a zero sum game, Sam, but in reality it becomes one.

The paper has one reporter working on a Sunday, and that's in the evening. If you send her or him to two events then you're pushing it to get both stories in on time, and you're leaving the store unwatched when it comes to breaking news.

Many days it would work OK. But the day you have a serious tragedy a reporter doesn't know about until hours later because they spent all afternoon at community events, well, that's a day the most important story is going to be quite thin. It's already difficult to balance the one community feature when a big news story breaks.

I'm leaving the discussion on where the story belongs (front page, b-front, etc.) alone. I was just trying to give some insight into how I would've made the call if I was faced with deciding between which of two events I'd send a reporter to.

cara michele

Joe, no, I didn't talk to any media people about Life Chain, although I did blog about it. There's a local coordinator and I just assumed that he would be in charge of contacting the press. The event was listed on the N&R's calendar. News 2 was there. I don't know if any other media outlets covered it. Thanks for your thoughts.

Joe Killian

Sam:

Reporters don't ultimately decide where something ends up on the page, no. But they certainly make the argument and they're the people who have to go out, get the stories and give the editors some sense of how important these things are, how big a deal, whether we need to assign a photographer, etc.

Since I'm certain I've written more protest stories than anyone at the N&R over the course of the last year and a half (either by myself or with others) I'm not sure how you can be convinced that my coverage is fair, that I don't decide not to cover something because it's conservative, that I don't try to marginalize or embarrass conservatives and I am evenhanded enough in my coverage that I wouldn't cover small liberal protests but not comparable or bigger conservative ones...but still be convinced that my paper, for whom I work and whose coverage I'm responsible for in this area, does do those things.

There are almost no examples of protest coverage over the last year that would support your point with which I wouldn't have been intimately involved -- and if you can find any protest stories that got better play than they deserved I'd be surprised. When people get arrested and Tasered protesting an ongoing war on a busy intersection in downtown on a weekday, it's front page news. That's just the last example I can think of.

Having reported when there's no one else in the office I hate to break it to you, but it can sometimes be zero sum. If you don't believe me you come in for a mid-shift and write two well done, well reported fifteen inch or larger stories on two events that are happening at the same time on the same day, file two photo assignments for one photographer (if there's even one available) make cop calls, listen to the police scanner and respond to shots fired or big wreck calls, write two or three briefs, go out on some call that turns out to be nothing but a chance for you to get mud all over your shoes and yelled at by neighbors who don't want to talk to you because it turns out the homicide call was a suicide and they think you're a jackass for trying to make a story out of it, check into a few bullet point items your editor thinks is interest, go through all of the incoming mail and the police alerts, don't miss any of the newscasts and try to work at least a little bit on that story you really care about for the next day while praying nothing else breaks all at the same time. Then realize that the photographers are doing a lot of this too and the editors have even more on their plate than that.

And there are fewer of us than ever.

All of that aside -- the N&R isn't the only outlet that didn't cover this. I'm sure some of the considerations Jonathan and I have talked about in this thread played into that. If you believe that it was more an ideological thing on everyone's part you're way out ahead of me on understanding how media works without ever actually having done the job.

Ben Holder

Joe writes many words

Ed Cone

"The paper has one reporter working on a Sunday, and that's in the evening."

That's depressing. The N&R still has a shot at turning itself into the dominant news and info brand in this region, but it won't happen without investing in people and giving them the tools to do their jobs.

Joe Killian

It is depressing. But I hear from friends at papers this size and even larger that it's much the same everywhere right now.

The CA

Roch, I think many of them would consider the term "hippie" as a badge of honor. I call them that because that's how they come across. You can call the pro-life demonstrators whatever you feel is accurate.

Sorry, but I'm not the touchy feely politically correct type. But you know that.

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