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Getting caught between competing opinions

In this week of Thanksgiving, we have much to be thankful for.

Especially for our many customers.

Even those who complain about what we do.

We are thankful that they care enough about their newspaper to let us know their concerns.

Let us address a few of them today.

MARILYN WONDERED about the “front” of the Business section being on the back page of Section C in our Saturday edition.

Her concern is that articles that start on the back page are sometimes continued inside that section, usually on Page C8.

“Week after week I have looked at it and can come up with no reason the copy on these two pages couldn’t be switched,” she said in a recent email. “Does it really make sense to be reading page 12 and then look for the continuation on page 8?”

When we combined the separate Community and Business sections into one section (for the convenience of the production process) about a year ago, we kept the Community cover on the front page and put the Business “cover” on the back page of that same section.

For two reasons, really:

Better display: The back page of a section is highly visible, more so than pages inside the newspaper. And we think the best business articles of the week should have maximum exposure.

Color availability: Our press does not allow the use of color on every page, including C8. So putting the “first” business page on the last page of the section allows the use of color photos with the main business articles.

Big city tabloids, which are published in only one section, usually use the back page to “begin” their sports section. That’s where the main sports story is featured.

Marilyn acknowledged her concern wasn’t a big deal.

“Small potatoes? Sure,” she wrote. “Annoying? I guess just to me.”

We’ve heard of people who read the newspaper from back to front.

Everybody is different.

HERB DIDN’T LIKE that the recent trial of killer Nicholas Sheley was reported on the front page every day.

“Do you really think it is the best use of exposure to feature ‘the trial’ on the front page every day?” he wrote. “What is the value of focusing on negative behavior? Why glorify this lengthy and expensive trial?

“Are people really interested in this? Aren’t there more important issues for our area and nation than negative focus on a dysfunctional, ill individual? We can do better!”

Loyal readers might recall that, just 3 months ago, the Whiteside County state’s attorney complained that this newspaper failed to use Page 1 to report that a repeat felon had received an 85-year prison sentence for attempted murder, being an armed habitual criminal, and three lesser charges.

“The decision by the [newspaper] to place this very important story on Page A4 of the Saturday paper did little to assist the court system in sending the message that violence of this nature will not be tolerated in Whiteside County,” State’s Attorney Gary Spencer wrote.

Different readers have different opinions.

SHELEY IS ACCUSED of a spree killing that left eight people dead – five of them in Whiteside County – in the summer of 2008. Those brutal crimes made national news.

This community had never experienced anything like it – and, we hope, never will again.

Some people believe that prominent coverage of crime “glorifies” it. We disagree.

Coverage of public affairs – including law enforcement and the court system – is the most important thing that a newspaper does.

In fact, letting the public know about those government functions is an obligation that the First Amendment puts on the press.

None of us likes to be reminded of those heinous acts attributed to Sheley.

But we believe it is important for the public to see how the criminal justice system works.

Does Page 1 display “glorify” crime, or does it “assist the court system in sending the message that violence of this nature will not be tolerated? ...”

Reasonable people will disagree. You can decide for yourself.

DAVID WAS ANGRY when he called to complain about our short story on the arrest of a Dixon man in the Quad Cities.

He wasn’t upset that we had reported on the misdemeanor prostitution charge against an optometrist. David was upset that the report had been “hidden under the obits” on Page A4 instead of being front page news.

David insisted that ordinary folks who faced such a charge would have found the news on Page 1.

He threatened to cancel his subscription because, he believed, we had given favorable treatment to a local “big shot.”

We assured David that wasn’t the case – in fact, the editor confessed he had never before heard of the optometrist.

In fact, minor charges don’t make the front page unless there are special circumstances.

But we conceded that a really prominent figure – such as an elected official – would probably get Page 1 coverage for an out-of-town arrest in a prostitution sting.

The day before David called, a member of the optometrist’s family called to complain that we had published the story just to sell newspapers.

We assured the caller that articles on Page A4 do not spur newspaper sales. Page 1 stories sell some newspapers, but the vast majority of our customers are subscribers who buy the newspaper without regard to what is reported on any particular day.

As you can tell, it’s not unusual for us to hear from different people with different opinions about what we do.

IN LATE OCTOBER, we wrote about an email from Bret, who expressed his “deepest concern and disgust” with this newspaper’s “despicable and wrong” editorial endorsement of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

After that column appeared, Bret wrote again to the editor.

“Aren’t you supposed to ask for permission before publishing a reader’s personal email to you?” he wrote “My email to you was intended to be personal, but you chose to make it public without my consent. I never granted you any permission to publish my letter. I suggest asking next time before it becomes a legal matter.”

First, Bret’s original note never indicated it was a personal message that wasn’t intended for publication. Although we did not use Bret’s last name, we reported that this newspaper had also published his letter to the editor endorsing the Libertarian candidate for president.

Second, No, we do not need Bret’s consent or permission to publish his note to the editor. We sometimes hear that from people who are photographed in a public place and question our right to publish their photo without their permission.

We do withhold the name of a source when such an agreement is established as part of the ground rules before an interview is conducted.

But if we do not agree – in advance – to withhold the name, it is fair game for publication.

People who talk to reporters or write notes to editors should not be surprised to find their words – and names – in print.

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