Sometimes we hit the mark dead on, sometimes we don’t |

Sometimes we hit the mark dead on, sometimes we don’t

Special to the DailyJim Morgan

It’s not unusual for someone to take the newspaper to task in a letter to the editor.It comes with the territory.It is unusual when we decide to take ourselves to task.The issue, in the parlance of the media, is single-source stories. One of the tenets of journalism, whether it’s big city journalism or that practiced in small towns like Summit County, is to provide balanced reporting.Too often a story that relies on a single source provides only a single point of view. And, to employ the cliché, every story has two sides. In fact, a lot of stories have more than two sides.Regardless, our obligation is to do our best to provide the full story.We give it our best shot.

Sometimes we hit the mark dead on.Sometimes we don’t.A story we published recently comes to mind. It was a story about a husband and wife’s dilemma over a home they own. They maintain there’s mold in the home because of errors made by the builder. They said they wanted to see Amendment 34 passed because they believed it would provide homeowners additional protections in such situations.The problem with the story wasn’t what that couple had to say – after all, everyone is entitled to their opinion – but that the story did not include, as Paul Harvey might say, “the rest of the story.” It did not include the opinions of the builder or the contractors, who clearly see the situation differently than the homeowners. The builder and others were called but the reporter didn’t get a response before deadline.The morning I read the story in the paper I thought to myself that the story needed more. It needed more than simply the homeowners’ viewpoint.Why didn’t we wait? Largely because we set an artificial deadline and a decision was made at the editor level to go to print with it. The story published the Monday prior to the election. The rationale was largely one of timeliness. Remember that Amendment 34 was on the ballot last Tuesday.

Had we waited the story would have lost its timeliness.At the time I suspect the argument seemed sound. Like so many things viewed after the fact, the timeliness argument no longer seems so compelling.Regardless of the time factor, without a response from the builder the story lacked balance.We at the Summit Daily News aren’t the only ones who have published or aired stories prematurely. Actually we’re in pretty august company. Who, you ask?Well, based on a quick search Dan Rather & CBS, the BBC, CNN, The Boca Raton News, Reuters and the New York Times (the Times was lambasted by several media critics for rushing a one-sided story with a negative Bush slant into print the day before the election) has each been criticized for single-source stories recently and all have done some public hand-wringing as a result.But just because we’re one of many or in good company doesn’t excuse not being thorough.One of the struggles of any community newspaper is to balance limited resources with daily deadlines. The pace is often frenetic. Calls don’t get returned by deadline or at all. Appointments are missed. Pages beg to be filled with copy.

And as we try to write more stories, as we try to shorten the length of stories – readers keep telling us they want shorter stories and capsulized information – it allows single-source stories to creep into the paper.For whatever reason, we have to guard against that.It’s worth nothing that some stories simply need a single source. But a complicated story, one with several facets and especially one with opposing points of view, needs to be fully explored and fully reported.Every day our desire is to publish stories about that which people are talking about in the coffee shops, over a beer or at home. We want to engage our readers. We want to provide Summit County with a good newspaper.Will we get it right every time? No, we won’t. But we’ll continue to try. We’ll never stop trying.Publisher Jim Morgan writes a Tuesday column.

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