Column: A question of perpetual coverage

Mar. 24, 2013 @ 07:20 AM

This job makes me philosophical sometimes, bringing to mind unanswerable questions not unlike “What is the sound of one hand clapping?”

Eastern philosophers pose such questions not to get an answer but to prompt thought. Mine can’t be answered either.

My most recent question: How long is always?

The question relates to the sentence I have heard more than any other in the past two months, coming several times just this week: “The News-Topic has always covered it.”

How long is always?

Sometimes it is since the inception of the event, which may be just a few years or may be more than a dozen.

The online dictionary.com gives the first definition of “always” as “every time; on every occasion; without exception.” It offers as synonyms:

“1. regularly, invariably, consistently. 2, 3. perpetually, everlastingly, continuously. Both always and ever refer to uniform or perpetual continuance. Always often expresses or implies repetition as producing the uniformity or continuance: The sun always rises in the east.”

I think the sentence, “The News-Topic has always covered it,” carries a sense of community obligation. The newspaper has always deemed the event important enough to warrant coverage; it’s validation of that importance.

I wouldn’t argue the importance of any event in the community. But I would answer in two ways.

My first might be to say, “The News-Topic has always had more reporters than it does now.” A fixed number of human beings can be in only so many places. With fewer people to try to cover both the news of the day and the same recurring annual events, something has to be left out, perhaps for the first time. Instead of being able to cover something, we might have no choice but to ask you to send a picture for us to run instead.

But I think the better answer would be to point to the synonyms for “always”: repetition producing uniformity or continuance.

Shortly after I started here I cited a common saying, that the reason newspapers don’t carry more “good news” is that “news” is what is out of the ordinary; it is the unusual or unexpected.

Repetition. Uniformity. Continuance. None of those are words I associate with “news.”

When I hear, “The News-Topic has always covered it,” I get a sense of dread that any story we produce on it will be instantly dismissed and skipped by the average reader because it’s going to be the same old thing as last year, and the year before that, and the year before that.

I don’t particularly want to stop covering any community event. But I would like to move away from rote coverage, doing the same thing as before just because that’s what the paper has “always” done. There may be more interesting ways to cover something than just showing up and then writing an event story, or more interesting ways to preview an event than a story noting that an annual event is coming up.

It helps if we get pretty good advance notice that an event is coming up so that if we can cover it, we can give it the thought needed to find a more interesting way to write about it. Don't assume we already know about your event. We’ve had a lot of turnover in the newsroom, so the institutional memory of what happens every month is gone.

I haven’t always been here.