Editorial cartoons imbalanced

Question: If the Spokesman Review is unbiased, why do ALL Editors's page cartoons bash the current and honorable Pesident of the United States? --Mark Harris

Answer: It's not quite that imbalanced, but it is seriously imbalanced. Your point is well taken.
Of the 38 cartoons published during the period April 16-30, 18 were directly anti-Bush and four were directly anti-Kerry. Four others took pokes at national security weaknesses. Two, including one of the anti-Bush portrayals, were critical of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Others took random shots at the 9-11 Commission, Spain (for removing its troops from Iraq), Hollywood, the terrorist group Hamas, air pollution and politics in general. Four had no apparent political message. Typical of the genre, only one of the 38 editorial cartoons had a positive message -- an April 27 effort by Michael Ramirez celebrating pro football player turned soldier Pat Tillman as a hero.
Another way to look at it -- and this gets more subjective -- is that of the 38 cartoons, 20 were unfriendly to Bush and his policies, seven were unfriendly to his critics and the other 11 didn't lend themselves to that kind of breakdown.
In normal times, some imbalance is to be expected. It's the nature of political cartoonists to lampoon and the most visible target is whoever occupies the White House at the time. Still, it's evident that our selection of cartoonists is tilted left and we need to improve the balance. --Doug Floyd, editorial page editor

Adding planet information to weather page

Question: I am wondering if perhaps you could provide a daily listing, maybe on the weather page, of which planets will be visible, and in which part of the sky they will be found? I think it's very interesting and would be very educational for young and old alike! Thanks for considering it! -- Gerry Bassen, Spokane

Answer: Adrian Rogers, the deputy news editor who handles the weather package for us, tells me we can add planet information to our weather package. We'll work with our provider, AccuWeather, to do just that. Thanks to the writer for the suggestion. -- Steve Smith, editor

Child abuse series reaction

In the past decade, at least 16 infants and toddlers in our region died of abuse at the hands of caregivers. A review of state reports and court documents shows many missed opportunities to safeguard the children. (Click here to read the series by Benjamin Shors.)
We sent email to 100 readers and asked whether they read our series, if they thought we handled the topic apppropriately and whether they learned from it.
Click on the link below to read some of the responses.

I did read the entire series....even looked forward to continuing the subject from Sunday's paper to Monday. I thought the information contained in the article was very good. I learned a great deal about how the state of Washington handles these cases...The emotional aspects of the cases are overwhelming. It is easy to get lost in these aspects without getting deeper in to the causes. I have never met a child abuser that didn't deserve my sympathy on some level. Not that I would ever let this sway me in reporting or not reporting (I am a pediatrician). But you struggle sometimes with the equations of who is to blame. -- S. Bergstrom, M.D.

Yes, we read the stories on the child abuse cases. Found them to be very well written and informative as well as touching. It is sickening to read about the perils of these children, however, awareness may be key in future prevention. -- S. Denu

I am well informed about the issue but was appalled to find out how little we seem to be able to do even when we know there is a problem. Can we force parents to be in a parent-education classes if certain "markers" seem to be present when the child is born? Can we monitor and notify naive young women about the men they allow to be with their child? I fear that social workers are too overloaded to make real contact, support and monitoring efforts with families. My former husband was a social worker who spent a lot of hours protecting children, monitoring situations and working with parents to become better at that big task. That was is the good old days when social workers actually had time, energy, training and support for working with families. Now they work w/ computer input, paper trails, regulations and way too many people. Maybe the fixing needs to be with the social service system first of all.
-- Jan Herman

I read a portion of Sunday's article on child abuse. And, to be honest, I was unable to read the article in its entirety because I found the subject and the portions of the article I read so upsetting. This is the first time I can remember where I actually wanted to read something, but was unable to. I did look at the pictures and their captions and found them to be very moving and powerful in their own right...The subject of child abuse is a very serious issue that deserves attention, so I applaud you for covering it in your newspaper in the series format. I can only hope it will enlighten and educate the readers on this important issue. -- Julie Culver

What stood out in my mind was how little time the individuals who committed the crime spent in prison and the women who let these individuals into their homes. I see a desperation in these women to feel needed or to take the position that they can't survive on there own. -- Burt Shepherd

I only read small bits and pieces of the story. It is a subject I become very emotional about and have a very strong opinion of what should happen to the abusers, none of which could be published. That being said I unfortunately did not read enough to make an informed, educated response. -- Curly Rousseau

I did not read any of this series on child abuse; however, my wife read the Sunday article about the Native American child and thought it was both very interesting and very well handled by your staff in analyzing where the system perhaps "is not working well". We both have been extremely busy during the three days the series appeared; thus, I had to "pass" on the entire series and my wife has not yet gotten around to the Monday and Tuesday articles. -- Phil Franklin

Symphony Pops reviews

Question: How come no reviews of Symphony Pops concerts? Nearly 2,800 people, famous guest artists, e.g. Crystal Gayle, Roger Williams, Kingston Trio, et al. You got a boycot going? Lots of people would like to read about the concert, but it seems there is little interest by S-R. Need a reviewer? --Jim McArthur

Answer: The amount of staff time and financial resources available for reviews is limited. Our first priority is significant performances by local arts groups, such as the Spokane Symphony, Civic Theatre, Interplayers etc.; these are events where a reviewer's words may actually have an impact on the performers, and it's one of the ways we try to support the local arts. Another priority is major multiple-performance events, such as the Best of Broadway series at the Opera House. Beyond that, we consider reviews of one-time performances by touring acts at the Arena, Opera House, etc., on a case-by-case basis, depending on such factors as the significance of the act and the staff time available; the symphony pops concerts fall into this category. The most recent such event we reviewed was the Wynton Marsalis concert on Feb. 29 (while not technically part of the SuperPops series, it was a symphony-sponsored concert in a similar vein). We'll continue to present the most useful, diverse reviews as possible within our resources. -- Rick Bonino, arts and entertainment editor

Sensational headlines

Question: Why do you run sensationalist headlines? I refer to your 4/16/04 issue. I can't believe the editors don't have more sense of integrity towards a tragic story and the lives affected! -- David Weaver, Spokane

Answer: Sensationalism is in the eye of the beholder. I don't consider that headline overly sensational. A headline should capture the essence of a story in a few words. This headline accomplishes that task. There is a myth that overly sensational headlines sell newspapers. That's not really the case. Headlines that emphasize death and violence tend to blunt sales. And we're occcasionally accused of writing front page headlines in order to sell papers. Well, there is some truth to that. We certainly want the paper to sell. But The Spokesman-Review is primarily a home delivery paper. Our single-copy sales are a smaller proportion of sales compared to similar newspapers in other communities. So our primary goal in writing a good front page headline is writing a headline that tells the story well. -- Steve Smith, editor

Should "The Apprentice" finale story be on Page 1?

We published a story on the front page Friday about the winner in the popular television show, "The Apprentice." Did you read the story? Do you think it was appropriate to put the story on the front page? Did we publish other stories that should have been on the front page instead of "The Apprentice?" Let me know.
We're interested in gathering reader feedback on our decisions. And from time to time we will ask readers to tell us what they think about our stories and photos. Thanks for your insight, and feel free to contact me whenever you see something that you would like to comment on. -- Gary Graham, managing editor

Update: We've now heard from a few readers...

I like current things on the front page, and I don't mean all war stories. I think so many people were interested in the outcome of the Apprentice that it was a good choice for the front page. Keep it up. -- Margaret Blodgett, Mead

I saw the story but didn't read it since I have no interest in "The Apprentice" in particular or "Contrived Reality" TV in general. I think the top half of the front page should generally feature top local news stories. People like to read about people, places and events they are familiar with. -- Allen Peterson, Spokane

To be honest, I did not read the story because I found it deeply offensive. My instant reaction was dissappointment that the Spokesman-Review has joined in blurring the lines between news and entertainment, a fashion that is lowering respect for real journalism in our country. Tragically, just when our country has entered profoundly dangerous political waters, at a time when knowledge of world politics is crucial to our very survival, Americans are being encouraged to distract themselves with trivia, and young people can name entertainers, but not the president of France. You might consider asking yourselves this question: How do you think Edward R. Murrow would respond? -- Reverend Dr. Iris St. John, Spokane

I got through a couple of sentences but lost interest. I watch a few reality shows but "The Apprentice" doesn't peak my interest, I don't think any TV show deserves the front page, seems kind of tacky. -- Paul Alsept, Spokane

If the winner of "The Apprentice" assassinated a figure in public office, or is developing a cure for cancer, then yes, they should be featured in a front page story. If the story simply reports on events depicted on the television show, then you should be ashamed for even asking this question. Such reporting plays a seemingly small but ultimately critical part in defining the society's values, in the same way that one person's vote in a political election plays a seemingly small but ultimately critical part in defining public policy. -- Tina Barros, Spokane

Yes, I did see the article. I guess it's news to somebody. I suggest that you have an entertainment section, a region section and even a Monday Morning pop section. That's where I might have gone to look for the article.

My view of "Pop" culture--and I don't mean to be a snob about it--is that it is "POP-ular" because it appeals to the lowest common denominator in the culture. I don't think "American Idol" is particularly uplifting, but it IS entertaining.

I believe the better parts of what we do contribute to the uplifting or the protection of the population or the culture. If it protects my kids from the bad guys, or helps to make them better people, then it's one of these "better things".

That's why I think it's "Real News" when you expose either facts about, (or arguments in the debate between) what is or isn't happening in one of these areas. If the bad guys are winning, I need to know. If the good guys are ahead, then I want to know. And I need to know how to support the good guys if they need me.

But I don't think it's news when:
--somebody who wants the job thinks the incumbent is doing a bad job, unless he actually has a fact or two that make a difference.
--somebody who makes money off the process invents a new criticism of something.
--somebody who's a nobody becomes a somebody for a bit by winning a talent show. But it might be entertaining. -- J.R. Sloan, Spokane

Thank you for asking, but I did not read the article. However, I would rather see things like that on the front page instead of articles about the deaths in Iraq and politics, etc. I think it is time that the news media focus on the wonderful, good things that are happening, and there are many. -- Jeanne Lenoch

Why don't you say paper is printed in Spokane?

Question: Why doesn't the paper have "Spokane, Washington" on the masthead? You need that -- or does the world know where The Spokesman-Review if printed? -- Margaret Blodgett, Mead

Answer: The nameplate or "flag" -- the name of the paper as printed at the top of Page 1 -- does not include "Spokane" because the paper serves a much wider region than the city of Spokane or even Spokane County. In all, we circulate in more than 30 counties in Washington and Idaho. And we have three editiions, including an Idaho edition and an edition that serves the Spokane Valley, including the new city. The "masthead," which is the boxed, formal statement of ownership and which can be found inside the A Section every day, makes it clear the paper is published in Spokane. -- Steve Smith, editor

Why make such a big deal out of problems in Iraq?

Question: The media runs the country. Bush screams about thugs, assassians and murders in Iraq. A rape every six minutes in this country, 12,000 murders a year, then all the kidnappings and other terrible crimes. Why is this acceptable in the U.S. but not in Iraq? Why does not the media make this an issue? Everyone intimidated? -- Hank Kuhlman

Answer: I find it difficult to imagine that anyone in the United States, including those who work in the media, find the rate of murder, rape and kidnappings here to be, in your words, "acceptable." We do our best to report on acts of violence, the pain and suffering endured by victims and family members, and the cost of violence on our society as a whole. In recent months we have published extensive stories in The Spokesman-Review about domestic violence, for instance.

True, we are intently focused on the ongoing cycle of violence in Iraq. It happens to be the dominant international story of the year and is likely to remain so for quite some time. I don’t think most reporters and editors for most media outlets, including newspapers, television, the Internet and others, feel intimidated by anyone when it comes to reporting on stories about violence in America. However, I would say, that because violence is so prevalent in our society, all of us have become somewhat hardened by it and accustomed to its rate of occurrence. -- Gary Graham, managing editor

How do I get you to write a feature article?

Question: I have contacted your paper by email, letter, phone message and an actual conversation with someone regarding a possible feature article on a "hero" in the Spokane community. My first attempts to communicate with several feature writers and editors were totally ignored. No email replies, no return phone calls.

So often the media focuses on stories of tragedies. Featuring "elders" has many positive aspects to it. One being that they can tell many stories about the landmarks and the history of Spokane. -- Nancy Colburn Schilling, Spokane

Answer: I am sorry the correspondent was not contacted following each of her contacts with us. She should have received call backs or return e-mails even though our editors felt they had already responded to her request. This community, like any other, is chock full of people who have led interesting, even inspiring lives. Absent some compelling news reason, most of them never are subjects of news reports, in print or on televsion. As much as we wish we could do stories on all of them, the fact is we can't. I believe that is the point the editor referenced in the question was trying to make.

A newspaper's first responsibility is to report the news of a community. News is commonly determined by factors such as importance, timeliness, proximity (is it local?), impact and so on. While we occasionally have the opportunity to tell a good story for no other reasons than the fact it is good, we don't have those opportunities that often. We know that manty people believe the news media, including our newspaper, spends too much time and space on "negative" stories. I believe a consistent reading of the paper belies that notion. I often suggest people take a month's worth of papers and red pencil all positive stories they encounter. They'll be amazed at the number of such stories they initially missed because their attention was drawn to more traditional news content. -- Steve Smith, editor

Whatever happened to Thomas Friedman?

Question: I used to enjoy the thought provoking editorials of Thomas Friedman, but have not seen even a mention on him for a long time. Has something happened to him? -- Fay, Spokane

Answer: Thomas Friedman is syndicated by the New York Times and is available only to newspapers that purchase the New York Times News Service. As of the end of 2003, The Spokesman-Review no longer subscribes to that service and, thus, is unable top purchase the Friedman column. --
Doug Floyd, editorial page editor

How do I buy a photo from the paper?

Question: I was very touched by the sad picture of the Marines praying over their dead comrade at the first aid station. I would like a copy of it in any form. I looked for it here at your site and even tried the AP site but no luck. Any way you can provide me a way of getting that one photo? --Tom Blair

Answer: The photo, taken April 8 for the Associated Press by photographer Murad Sezer, shows U.S. Marines praying over a comrade who died from wounds suffered in fighting in Fallujah, Iraq. The photo was published on front pages of newspaper across the United States the next day.

A New York company, Wide World Photos, sells AP photos to the public. The phone number there is (212) 621-1930. Copies of pictures produced by Spokesman-Review staff photographers can be purchased by calling (509) 459-5476. -- Ken Sands, managing editor of online and new media

Newspaper has abused its position

Question: The S-R has abused its position with respect to RPS/Citizens Realty property interests coverage since well before the dates covered in your recent series. For that reason, if the paper wants to hasten the process of encouraging renewed confidence in its reporting, I think it should take a broader look at the nature of its past reporting and the nature of its continuing conflict. The conflict isn't just with RPS, but with all other economic interests of the publisher. No matter how good a human being the publisher is, this is a problem that will arise again, and will prevent the paper from being as respected as it should be by both readers and potential employees.

So, it's good that you've created this "Ask the Editors" vehicle, but at some point I belive you need to overtly address how you've dealt with conflicts in the past, and how you will deal with them in the future. In thinking that through, maybe it's better to confess that conflicts will occur, and that the reporting may be slanted, and admit it, unless there's going to be some strong safeguard for reporters who may write articles damaging to the publisher's other interests. --Bob Douthitt, Spokane

Answer: As we said in our recent RPS series, "Paying to Park," we'll eventually bring in an independent ethicist to review our journalistic performance re: River Park Square. We'll leave it to the reviewer to establish the appropriate time frame. As to the larger question: The owners of this newspaper are involved in a number of enterprises. Many of those enterprises work to the benefit of the community -- not to mention the Cowles family's incredibly generous and ongoing charitable work acknowledged by even their harshest critics. So, unless the family decides to divest itself of the newspaper or keep the newspaper and divest itself of other interests, the newspaper staff will have to cope with conflict-of-interest issues, real and perceived.

As we stated in the RPS series, the news staff now operates independently, applying the same coverage standards to the owners as to other businesses in town. There is no prior review of stories. Reporters are answerable to the editor, not the publisher. But our harshest critics will never be staisfied with our policies and procedures. And believers of the most outrageous conspiracy theories or bizarre financial manipulations will always believe we're covering up. For those folks, I will never provide a satisfactory explanation. -- Steve Smith, editor

How do you select reviewers?

Question: How do you pick the reporter to cover concerts? For example, the post-adolescent reporter who doesn't know the difference between Patsy Cline and Reba McEntire at the Clarkson/Aiken concert Friday? Would you at least send someone who knows something about music and can keep his ill-mannered remarks to himself?

Clay was not 100 percent dropping octaves but was charismatic, very entertaining, and his voice is amazing, even when it's not on. Oh, and his version of "When Doves Cry" was stylistic and wonderful. Either the editor who reviewed the story missed some editing or the reporter just doesn't know how to give an unbiased review. Either way, how do you choose your reporters? -- Tracy Reich

Answer: The Spokesman-Review employs both staff and correspondent reviewers for different sorts of arts events. Som Jordan, who reviewed the Clarkson/Aiken concert, is a full-time staff writer who regularly reviews popular music concerts. Reviewers are in the business of expressing their opinions. They are allowed to be biased if, by that, we mean they can criticize a performance.

Criticism is subjective. Some people will agree with a reviewer. Some won't. The writer liked Aiken's version of "When Doves Cry." The reviewer didn't. Reviews acknowledge the fact of a performance and provide one person's perspective on the quality of that performance against which attendees can measure their own opinions. And as people become familiar with a reivewer -- and Jordan has been around a long time -- they can begin to judge the reviewer's point of view in relation to their own. -- Steve Smith, editor

How do I know if my letter will be published?

Question: I recently submitted an opinion for publication on your op-ed page. Will I be informed if and when it will be published? -- Dick Roose, Spokane

Answer: We always call the writer to verify that the signature is authentic. While that call isn't a guarantee that the letter will be used, it's usually a pretty good indicator. Also, if there's a routine reason why an otherwise acceptable letter can't be used -- over the 200-word limit, perhaps, or failure to provide the writer's address or phone number -- you usually would get a response explaining that. But if you've submitted a letter and something seems amiss, you can always call the letters coordinator at 459-5428 or me at 459-5466 to check on a letter's status. -- Doug Floyd, editorial page editor

Photo appropriate or not?

Editor's note: On Wednesday, we sent an e-mail question to 100 of our readers, asking them what they thought of that day's Page 1 photo of the Marines and a dead Iraqi fighter. We received a dozen responses, a few of which are included below:

“While photos of war are disturbing, I think it is good to keep reminding people that we are in a war and deaths will happen. Perhaps then the war will end sooner.”

“Photo OK. Better them than us. I don't like to see any of our boys dead or wounded but that's the reality of war. People need to know.”

“While I do remember the photo, it didn't have a significant affect on me. I've a feeling that had that been a terrorist standing over an American service man I would have had a much stronger reaction. I suspect I would consider that propaganda in favor of the terrorists. Was the picture you did present propaganda for the administration? Maybe, but then as we're all Americans here in America I couldn't look at the picture in anything but a positive light. We are at war.”

“When I first saw the photo, I thought it was inappropriate. However, I did take the time yesterday to think about it. The photo is a reflection of war and the photo itself is not offensive. But the fact that a photo of a dead Iraqi fighter was prominently placed in the newspaper is no different than our enemies displaying photos or other footage of Americans killed in war. Using the media to display your "victories" is the new way governments gain support for their military efforts. Even though the concept is gruesome, it is the times that we live in.”

“Although I am a photographer myself working for a newspaper...I have a hard time appreciating photos of dead soldiers REGARDLESS of their ethnicity. I don't think it does anything but make people cringe.”

“It was too graphic. We get enough of this coverage on TV and in the weekly news magazines.”

“I thought it was in poor taste. As I was looking at it, I couldn't help but think that I would be absolutely outraged if it were an American laying there. Even though the insurgent fighter got what he deserved, I still think it shouldn't have been shown on the front page.”

“There's nothing wrong with the truth - unless that which brought it on was avoidable.”

“When I looked at the photo, I felt sorry for the young soldiers that had to continue to do their duty. I thought about how they would be scarred for life by the things they have seen and done, while on their tour of duty.”

“I think it could be helpful to show, as it was, the body of a dead Iraqi - it puts a human body and, therefore, what was a life to what may seem like such a foreign entity to most people from this country. It would be good for us to be able to empathize with their grief, fears and misfortunes as well.”

“Perhaps it might have been better not to include the body, but I don't seem to have very strong feelings on this, except to say that since all life is of value, it might not be desirable to depict dead bodies, despite the fact that this is not an unusual reality in war.”

“When I first saw the paper today I must admit I was a little taken aback by the picture because I did indeed think it was a picture of an American soldier killed. The Iraqi man had on a camouflaged flak jacket making it appear he was American at first glance.”

“I didn't find it too graphic, although I was surprised to see the picture. Maybe if these kinds of photos had been shown from the beginning, folks who are supportive of the President and his Administration would give it another thought.”

“Graphic? Yes but graphic is not what should determine if a picture is newsworthy, but rather does it make a point?”

“It is very foolish to show pictures of this nature, especially if your newspaper can be viewed in a place like Iraq or other places where Americans are view with anger and hatred.”

“I think people need to be made very aware of what is going on over there. I hate to see that kind of photo, whether it is Iraqi or American, but facts are facts and people here need to be aware that we are also a part of this horrible error in judgment.”

Why place blame on corrections?

Question: Is it really necessary to place blame in your corrections? What's the thinking supporting that policy? -- Nancy Darnell

Answer: It's not a question of placing blame, it's a question of identifying responsibility, within the newsroom and without. Corrections are an important element in establishing credibility with readers. But we know, anecdotally and through considerable national research on newspaper credibility, that readers want to know how mistakes are made. Was it a reporter error? Was the error introduced in the editing process, victimizing an accurate reporter? Was the source of the mistake external to the newsroom? Furthermore, in the digital age, corrections, like original stories, have indefinite life. It’s important that corrections provide ALL relevant information in the interest of historical completeness. -- Steve Smith, editor

How do I find the wine column online?

Question: Could you add the wine columns to the site map so I can read them at my leisure without having to hunt them down? Great column, great information, difficult to find. Also think you should consider running it more often. -- James

Answer: Thanks for the note. That's a good idea, and one we'll consider as we're switching to a new computer system in the next month. -- Ken Sands, managing editor of online and new media

Who owns the land under garage?

Question: In all the articles about the River Park Square parking garage I have not seen where it says who owns the land the garage sits on. Also, it does not seem to be good business to build an expensive building on someone else's land. I would never even think about it. -- Ron Blank, Spokane

Answer: As was reported more than once, the land under the garage is owned by the developers and the garage pays rent. -- Steve Smith, editor

Inconsistent coverage

Question: About a year ago, a group of Spokane-area scientists and lay people with scientific interests were forming up a group with an interest in exposing superstitious thinking for what it is. Doug Clark came to the third meeting and, of course, satirized the whole group, thus smearing its reputation and purposes before it could even get off the ground. The science group received no other coverage than that. Then, a couple of months ago, a new religious group was forming up, and they got complete coverage with a front page photo. Is there some reason why The Spokesman-Review frequently covers religious groups so fully and completely but only satirizes a scientific group and gives it no front page photo? -- George Thomas, Spokane

Answer: News coverage decisions are judgment calls made by editors attempting to balance the competing issues of time, space, staff and perceived community interest/significance. Over time, the net effect of good decision-making should be a sense that the newspaper has authentically reflected the life of our communities...the hopes, dreams, triumphs, tragedies, work life, home life, church life, business life, etc., of the citizens we serve.

An authentic representation of community life must include, over time, representation of non-religious citizens just as it must represent the lives of the religious. I don't recall why we chose not to cover the formation of the group mentioned by the writer. It almost certainly deserved some coverage beyond a Doug Clark column. Whether it belonged on Page 1 or not is another issue and is almost entirely dependent on the run of news on any given day. -- Steve Smith, editor

You need a Cougar sports reporter

Question: When do you think you will have a replacement for Carter Strickland? His Cougar reports were terrific! You need a guy in Pullman. -- Mike Houck, Tualatin, Ore.

Answer: We will fill the Pullman sports position as soon as possible...but it still may be a few months. We agree that reports of WSU sports activities are vitally important to a good many readers. And the only way to properly cover WSU is from Pullman. But we're going to take our time in filling the position, in part to meet internal budget needs and, in part, to ensure a good hire. My goal is to have someone in place by mid-summer, well before football season. -- Steve Smith, editor

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