Danville Express

Perspective - September 7, 2007

From the publisher: Nothing is black and white

The only thing black and white about the news business is black ink on white paper. But even then you have a lot of gray areas. In February, the Danville Weekly launched its improved Web site with a few interactive features. One of the most popular features has become the Community Calendar. Visitors can post their own items online, request publication in the newspaper, and verify the accuracy of their own information before publication without dependence on newsroom personnel.

The one time newsroom personnel are involved is when the calendar item is approved for Web and/or print publication. This has been a source of many questions, particularly, "Why didn't my item appear?"

Newspapers have a limited amount of space, and Web site visitors have a limited amount of time. The Weekly's journalists have been charged with the difficult task of sifting through all sorts of calendar submissions to determine which are listed and which are rejected, using the basic rules of journalism, and knowledge of the community and readers.

First to be rejected are submissions that are blatant advertising of goods and services for a profit because we want to reserve the space for nonprofit groups that can't afford to market their events/services. However, for-profit businesses have been allowed to post information on events if there is no charge (or a nominal charge to cover costs), no purchase necessary and the event fits a "news value" category. An example of this would be a bookstore that is having an author speak.

Editors use "news value" guidelines to decide placement of stories on a page and in the publication--whether a story will go on page 1 or 20. Editors also refer to news value when deciding which stories to cover and how. The basics for news judgment are impact (how many people will it affect?); proximity (is it close to home or does it affect people in Alamo and Danville?); currency (is this an issue or event people are talking about?); oddity (is it something unusual?); and timeliness (when is it happening?).

However, nothing is black and white, and every item must be judged on a case-by-case basis.

Space is not an issue on the Web site; however, we don't want to fill the Community Calendar with advertisements. And if one business is allowed to advertise, we certainly wouldn't be able to justify not running others. Eventually the calendar would be nothing but ads and it would stop being a valuable tool for nonprofit groups, fundraisers and the visitors who would like to attend those happenings.

Journalists view their work as being a matter of public service to provide community members with the news they need to know in order to go about their daily lives. To that end, we go to the "gray area" to make judgment calls often.

Gina Channell-Allen, a 20-year journalism veteran, is the president of the East Bay division of Embarcadero Publishing Co.,publisher of the Danville Weekly and president of the Pleasanton Weekly. Send questions to gallen@danvilleweekly.com.


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