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Running newspaper is a balancing act

Nearly a century ago, famed Kansas newspaper editor William Allen White explained the difficulty of editing a newspaper.

“There are three things that no one can do to the entire satisfaction of anyone else,” he wrote. “Make love, poke the fire and run a newspaper.”

Not much has changed in this business.

No one is ever entirely satisfied with the newspaper.

Reporters and editors make thousands of decisions in putting together each edition.

Stands to reason everybody is going to disagree with at least a few of them.

And those disagreements are always welcome here.

ATTACHED TO A subscription renewal form we received was a small yellow sticky note from David.

“Continue to be frustrated w/ too large headlines & pictures,” he wrote. “Please – more news, special interest stories. You have the ‘whole’ Sauk Valley to cover.”

And don’t we know it, David!

Our small staff (we are currently operating with three full-time news reporters, one of whom is on vacation) has a lot of geography to keep track of in Lee and Whiteside counties, plus peripheral areas in Bureau, Carroll and Ogle counties.

That means we’re making a lot of tough decisions about what stories to write – and which ones we just can’t get to right now.

But a thorough review of just about any edition will find that our daily report touches every corner of the market – from the government stories to the speeding tickets to the obituaries to the editorials to the calendars to the high school game coverage to the box scores to the ... well, you get the idea.

Of course, we are always looking for suggestions about the good stories we’re missing.

A small staff such as ours depends on the eyes and ears of our readers to help us know what’s going on.

Don’t hesitate to call or write with your ideas.

ROBERT SENT US an email about letters to the editor.

“Keep publishing letters from all the right wing, [religious] rubes and I’ll get my news elsewhere,” he wrote.

We asked him whether he wished us to publish his comment as a letter. He declined.

“I’m just tired of reading letters from so many of the same kooks every week,” he explained. “I think one letter per month, per kook, would be plenty, and certainly no infringement on kook First Amendment rights.”

Our opinion page does have a policy that limits the number of letters to the editor by kooks – and everyone else.

We limit each person to 12 letters a year. And we keep close track of the tally.

So we might publish two letters a month from some people, but not for very many months.

Maybe all the kooks sound alike to Robert, and he just figures the same ones are published every week.

But they’re not.

TWICE IN RECENT weeks, we have received emails from people who work for local institutions.

They use the newspaper in two ways: for free publicity and for paid advertising.

Both figured that the ads they buy should entitle them to some extra consideration when we report the news.

“I understand everything has a price, and what people want also drives what is written,” one of them wrote. “However, in the grand scheme of money I seem to be paying a lot for little coverage. ...”

In fact, nobody pays anything for news coverage – not a little or a lot.

What advertisers pay for is advertising – access to our tens of thousands of readers. For their money, they get full control of the content, size and timing of their commercial and promotional messages.

Separately, editors make decisions about what news is reported (content, length and timing) based on what their experience and judgment tell them that readers need and want to know.

We appreciate all advertising customers, whose dollars help to make news coverage possible.

But if readers are to trust the information we report, editorial judgments must be based on public interest, independent of advertising.

That’s why it’s called a free press – free of influences that would compromise the credibility of the news report.

Now, we’ll get back to poking that fire.

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