Why so many short Page 1 stories?

Question: Can you please explain to the uneducated out here why some articles on the front page are so short before continuing inside? Today's paper had an article that didn't even get through the second paragraph. I read the paper before I go to work every morning, and I don't have the time to go back and forth between the front page and the inside to read these stories. Isn't
there a better way? -- Paul Choate, Spokane

Answer: You've raised an issue that we frequently discuss in our daily planning meetings. We usually try to place five to six stories on the front page each day. Our front page philosophy is essentially this: we want to put the most important or interesting stories and photos on the most important page of the newspaper each day.

Placing five to six stories on the front page is often a challenge for our page designers, who also have to factor in headlines, photos and graphics. We do try to avoid the situation you describe in your note regarding the brevity of the front-page portion of the story, but obviously we've not been successful lately. We're addressing that problem and intend to settle on some solutions. -- Gary Graham, managing editor

Why highlight Mariners over Spokane team?

Question: Why is it the Mariners get Page 1 sports section every day and our local team gets it once in a while? Then to add insult to injury, today (July 27) the Indians get a big picture on Page 1 because of their terrible game yesterday. Why so much loyalty to Seattle?

Even if you don't want to put the full story about the Indians on Page 1, how about at least putting the score on Page 1 every day? I don't have time to read the whole paper but hate hunting for the score on Page 3 or 5. -- Beth Ann Daigre

Answer: It is never a question of loyalty to teams. Our decisions on where to place a story have to do with reader interest. The Seattle Mariners have a much larger following than the Spokane Indians, even in Spokane. Thus, the Mariners do get better play. They are almost always on the sports section cover.

Still, we don't ignore the Spokane Indians. Nearly all of the Spokane Indians home games make the front page. As for the photos, they are planned well before we know the outcome of the game. We will not simply drop a photo because the home team loses. -- Joe Palmquist, sports editor

Weed out inaccurate letters

Question: There was a letter to the editor on the 20th about the Spokane police department by Linda Becker titled "Police officer was not a hero." Just about averything in that letter was inaccurate. I thought you were suppose to weed out those type letters?

Sgt. Walter was not involved in the shooting. The spokane police does not have "overkill mentality". Shooting someone in the shoulder and hope they drop the gun is laughable. Been watching too much Walker, Texas Ranger. Fitzpatrick was given every opportunity to put down the gun and come out but instead put on his coat, turned around, drew his gun and pointed it at the officers. J.C. Collins, one of the police officers there saved Sean's life. He could have let him die very easily.

Sgt. Walter is an outstanding officer and anyone who knows him will tell you that. -- Wayne Lythgoe, Colbert

Answer: First, thanks for calling our attention to the error. You're correct. Sgt. Walter was not at the Lewis and Clark incident last year when an armed student was shot, and we will publish a correction on Friday's letters page. Walter was honored by the department for the extensive time and effort he devoted to researching Columbine-type situations and designing an "active shooter response" system. He spent more than a year on the effort and trained his fellow officers in how to use it. The letter writer apparently misunderstood a recent news story reporting Walter's Medal of Merit.

As for the other points you raise, those are matters of opinion which, although harsh, are within the latitude of an opinion page. -- Doug Floyd, editorial page editor

Why put national sports and news on SR.com?

Question: I think spokesmanreview.com's approach is all wrong with regard to local issues. A medium-sized city like Spokane needs a Web site focusing on local events (news, high school sports, etc.) Let me ask a couple of questions:

1. Do you think Internet users are more likely to get national news from spokesmanreview.com or CNN, MSN or some other large news org. How about sports -- ESPN.com or spokesmanreview.com?

2. Wouldn't it be better to concentrate on solving a customer need that you alone can solve (in-depth local sports coverage, for example) instead of filling your sports section with links to AP wire stories on the All-Star game, etc.?

I'm not saying you shouldn't provide links or access to national stories, but in my opinion you are doing a terrible job reporting on local news -- especially sports news when that should be your strength. It's the one thing you can offer that ESPN.com or CNN can't!

Answer: We post every local story that was in the printed edition of the S-R every day. In addition, we have several local news data bases that go beyond the print publication -- things like obits, births, and high school sports schedules and results. We also have 16 local online-only columnists, or bloggers. Right now are working on a sports cover page redesign that will highlight all of the stuff you're talking about.

I believe you might be most concerned about our packaging of those stories, and how wire stories seem to get prominent display on our Web site right now. That is true. For example, on many days the Associated Press provides us "dynamic" news content throughout the day. We know people will go to national news outlets for the national news. But we also know they have to come to us for local news. So if they can get a dose of national news while they're here, then maybe some people will visit fewer of the national news sources because we also can fulfill that need for them.

Having said that, our main mission is to increase the amount of fresh, timely, breaking local news in all sections of the online paper, and highlight local news throughout. So I don't think we're in disagreement here. But building a Web site involves a series of steps, and we just installed a new computer system that will enable us to do much of what you suggest. We're nowhere near being finished. We hope you're patient and stick with the site as improvements are made regularly. -- Ken Sands, managing editor of online and new media

Where is coverage of Marines?

Question: I am very dismayed at the lack of coverage regarding the departure of the Marine Reserve Unit that left Saturday -- 150 of our men left family and loved ones to defend freedom. The news has given more coverage of the Aryan Nations parade than the courage and commitment of these Marines. Please address this issue as I feel it speaks loud and clear of your lack of support for our troops.

Answer: We share your concern about the lack of coverage of the U.S Marine Corps reservists based in Spokane who left last weekend for deployment to Iraq. We were keenly interested in trying to provide thorough coverage, but unfortunately the Marine Corps restricted our access to the departing contingent.

Normally, we would have covered the departure by talking to the reservists and their family members. When we called the Marine unit, officials there declined to tell us specific information about their departure dates because of security fears for their troops. Battalion leaders were fairly forthcoming about their upcoming mission, but they told us they didn't want us there for their family day or departure activities. We were also told the troops themselves didn't want the media interruption.

Given the circumstances, the best we could do was the front page story we published on July 15 in which we described the essential details of the deployment. We meant no disrespect to the reservists or their families, but we can't do our jobs as journalists if we're denied access. -- Gary Graham, managing editor

What's the real purpose of 7?

Question: Some have said that the establishment of your "7" section in Friday's paper is a blatant attempt at sexualizing our youth. Others have said it is designed with mere money motives encouraging young readers to subscribe. I find it hard to believe that any responsible newspaper would engage in such heinous and/or self-serviing actions. So my question is this: Why "7"? Please state your philosophy as fully as possible so that we can make a wise choice as to how we spend our money and reading time. -- Lawrence C. Hudson

Answer: Well, I suppose some people might see 7 as "sexualizing" our youth, though that is pretty much beyond our simple section's reach and capability. But it is true that the section, exists, in part, to attract new readers to the paper. Newspapers are commercial enterprises and, to be successful, must meet the needs and report on the interests of a mass audience.

Newspapers include a sports section because it is a must for about 40 percent of our readers (the other 60 percent could care less). Business sections typically attract about 30 to 35 percent of a newspaper's readers. And so on. Last I checked, there is nothing "heinous" about a newspaper seeking to attract new readers, particularly young readers for whom the newspaper habit has yet to be established.

So why 7? I think I've answered this before. The section is designed to appeal to a broader audience with interests that go beyond entertainment but without sacrificing all the information people need to plan their weekends. 7 will not appeal to everyone. If it doesn't work for you, please don't read it. -- Steve Smith, editor

Why not use dates instead of days to specify when events are held?

Question: If you are going to publish on the Web, you have to realize people from out of town will check in to see what is going on and they will want to know WHEN concerts, fights, debates, etc. are planned.

So when is this Mozart concert? Tuesday and Wednsday -- but which week? The dateline is the 15th, and the story says next week. But those of us who travel and plan ahead have learned that datelines are often interactive and updated daily, and old stories don't always get sent to the cyberspace black hole in a timely manner. So When is this Mozart Concert... The 13th and 14th or the 20th and 21st of July?

Answer: Associated Press style calls for us to use a day of the week when the event is within the coming week. Beyond that, it says to use dates. So the story -- which was published in today's print edition -- did conform to AP style. So the short answer is that the concerts are on the 20th and 21st.

You make a good point, however, that stories on the Web don't always indicate an accurate print publication date, and therefore make it difficult to establish when an event will occur. I mentioned this our the editor of our InLife section, and she agreed that we should try to include dates when practical in the print edition. The stories themselves are transferred from print to online in an automated process, so that change would need to occur in print. -- Ken Sands, managing editor of online and new media

Anyone there believe in God?

Question: I am writing to ask if there is anyone there who still believes in God. -- George W. Kinerson, Spokane

Answer: I suspect we have a great many people of faith in our newsroom. But a staff member's religious views are personal and, frankly, none of my business. There is no religious litmus test for staff members. -- Steve Smith, editor

Why no mention of Bainbridge Island incident?

Question: On July 4th on Bainbridge Island, a young soldier marched in the parade, dressed in his uniform and wearing the medals he had earned in Iraq. The MC of the parade scornfully asked (over the mic) what he was a veteran of, and the vast majority of the crowd booed him. There's been no coverage of this anywhere. Why? Surely, this disgraceful behavior should have been held up to scrutiny by the rest of the state, if not the nation. -- Rose Dempsey, Spokane Valley

Answer: The incident you described has received some coverage in the Seattle area, but little beyond that. I can't speak for the rest of the state's newspapers, but we haven't published anything about the harassment of Jason Gilson because your note is the first we've heard of it.

I did a Google search this morning and found only two newspaper articles about the incident. Robert Jamieson, a columnist for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, wrote about Gilson in a column published July 9, five days after the event. And the Bremerton Sun published a news story about the parade and the treatment of Gilson in a story published July 10. It's my sense that this is one of those stories that initially gets overlooked because it happened on a holiday and occurred at an event that normally would not receive much media coverage.

We rely on the Associated Press to provide most of our coverage of news and events in the Seattle area because we do not have a bureau there. I will ask AP to consider doing a story about Gilson and the parade, but given the passage of time (10 days) since the event, it may not be a high priority for them. -- Gary Graham, managing editor

Update: I'm happy to report that your question, which I shared with the Associated Press editors in Seattle, prompted AP to file a short story which we published in today's Spokesman-Review. The mayor of Bainbridge Island issued an apology to the soldier for the way he was treated at the parade.

Where were the protest pictures?

Question: Would you please tell me why the paper (and the TV newsmen to a lesser extent) plainly avoided pictures of the protesters at the Bush rally? Is it just plain political preference on the publisher's part? Or ar they afraid to go against the administration? Or what? It certainly didn't seem like they were covering the news, as it really was. -- Doris Gerhart

Answer: I think we've already addressed this to a certain extent. Our goal during the president's visit was to cover the visit. Protests against the president and demonstrations in his favor were part of the event and were fully covered in our stories. But we didn't provide much photo coverage of either side. That is, in part, because the protests were peripheral to the major news event. But it's also true that, in general, we cover protests sparingly. Protests are, by their nature, media events. They rarely advance an issue or contribute new thinking to a problem. They are staged to attract media attention and win photo or broadcast coverage. That's a game we try to avoid playing. A group will not be assured of news coverage simply by holding a rally. And the numbers game, played by all sides, is not part of our thinking. It doesn't much matter that the antis had 25 percent more than the pros. To win coverage beyond the most basic acknowledgment (for the historical record), something has to be said that moves the news forward. Now, some will argue the president's entire visit was a media event that failed to advance any issue. That may be true. But it doesn't really matter. The president is always newsworthy, regardless of party or politics. I don't think that's an argument too many people can dispute.

As to publisher preference and the internal politics of the newsroom ... I have no clue what the publisher's preferences might be in the upcoming election. We haven't talked about that yet. And the publisher plays no role whatsoever in daily news decisions. No editor, reporter or photographer, including myself, ever discussed the president's visit or our coverage with the publisher. As dialogue on this page has shown over and over, political bias is more often than not in the eye of the beholder. -- Steve Smith, editor

Why print only 'junk science' letters?

Question: I am a concerned citizen supporting fluoride. I have sent letters which have been published, however I have several friends and acquaintances that have sent letters regarding the benefits of fluoride and you choose not to print those. I have seen too many anti-fluoride letters that are pure garbage compared to very few pro-fluoride letters. Why aren't the pro-fluoride people getting equal space?

I am a retired health care administrator, I believe in medical science. I don't believe in junk science. You have been printing junk science. -- Joyce McNamee, Spokane

Answer: All letters are held to the same criteria, regardless of ideological point of view. Among those criteria are length, frequency and the presence of a signature and other information necessary for the verification process. Anyone who has submitted a letter and is concerned that it has not been processed should inquire directly by phoning me at 459-5466 or e-mailing me at dougf@spokesman.com. -- Doug Floyd, editorial page editor

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