Thursday, October 22, 2020

Promoting a little understanding

| October 9, 2020 1:00 AM

As long as newspapers have been assembled in the wee hours and tossed on driveways before the ink is completely dry, readers have had opinions about all that work packed into 24-hour periods, every day of the year.

There are misconceptions about the business that from time to time need to be set straight, hopefully charting a course for better understanding, if not agreement.

One common complaint is that reporters and editors promote certain things — and by that the critics usually mean certain things with which they disagree or find offensive.

There’s a difference between promoting and reporting. For example, every time The Press publishes a photograph showing a person riding a bike but not wearing a helmet, the paper is accused of promoting unsafe behavior.

Another example: When The Press publishes a news article covering a political event to which no other party participates or steps up for comment, the paper is accused of promoting the event’s agenda.

Another: When The Press publishes a story or photo about Gov. Brad Little’s stay-home order being defied, be it through a Rathdrum yard sale or a protest on the Long Bridge or a Prayer Day gathering at McEuen Park where social distancing is amiss, the newspaper is accused of promoting the point of view being expressed through those activities.

Oddly, newspapers are not accused of promoting murder when they carry a front-page story about a mother charged with using a box cutter to kill her newborn child.

Newspapers are forgiven, for some reason that logic ignores, for reporting on COVID-19 illnesses and deaths, when if the critics’ standards for promotion were consistent, the newspapers would be guilty of promoting the benefits of COVID-19 illnesses and deaths.

It is true that editors and reporters have choices every day about what to cover and what not to cover. There are limits based on staffing, space on news pages and time. But generally speaking, journalists seek out the most interesting and sometimes the most important things going on in their community, and the people who are making the news — good, bad and sometimes ugly.

The job is to hold up a mirror to those people and those things and, in the news columns anyway, share the images and words that describe what’s happening.

That is not promoting.

It’s reporting.