News judgment is one of those difficult-to-define senses that springs partly from intuition and partly from experience.
I’ve known news people, some just starting their professional careers, who could make snap judgments on the news value of developments and always seem to get it just right. I’ve known others who can’t seem to get beyond their personal tastes when evaluating news.
Just because a person is good at gathering information (reporting) and presenting the information (writing), doesn’t necessarily mean they have a sterling sense of news judgment. Some who are gifted storytellers don’t have an intuitive feel for news value. These folks are focused on the telling of the story, not on the value of the news.
As an example, a friend of mine can talk at length about the exciting plays in a baseball game that I’ve missed. But after a few minutes, I might have to ask, “So, who won?” She always knows the answer to this, but then when I ask the final score, she is apt to be off by a run or two.
The Herald Bulletin has a loyal and engaged core of readers who often suggest news articles and point us to newsworthy trends and events. For example, we took a call from a reader last week to let us know that a local retail outlet was mistakenly selling gasoline at 44 cents a gallon. This led to a news story.
We placed the article at the top of the front page, because it rated very high in our estimation of reader interest. Who wouldn’t want to get gas at 44 cents? How did this happen? How many folks capitalized on it?
Interest in the story, I think, soared partly because of a sense of consumer revenge. We feel that we’ve been jerked around by the oil and gasoline industry and are paying unfairly high rates. So when a gas station screws up and consumers benefit . . . well, it sates a taste for ground-level justice.
Some might argue that the gas story didn’t belong on the front page. It was just an anomaly. It really wasn’t important; it wouldn’t have an impact on public policy or on our readers’ lives.
Truly, the 44-cent gas story rated low on the importance scale. But in my estimation, the high interest rating was the overriding factor that elevated it to A1.
Reader interest and importance to the community are the primary factors that we at The Herald Bulletin consider when determining whether to pursue a story and where to place an article in the newspaper and on our website. Timeliness, topicality, local impact and other factors contribute to our judgment of interest and importance.
Our news judgment isn’t perfect, and we need our readers to keep us focused on the most important news. Is there a story we’re missing or underplaying? Are we devoting too much time and space to other topics?
Let me know.
Editor Scott Underwood’s column appears Mondays. Follow him on Facebook and like him on Twitter @THBeditor. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and 640-4845.