Small-town paper lambasted for NOT publishing news of Obama victory

Correction: The title should have read that the paper was criticized for NOT publishing news of Obama’s win.

CNN reports about the 5,000-circulation Daily Herald in Salpulpa, Okla., which did not carry news of Barack Obama’s win in its Wednesday edition.

Embedded video from CNN Video

Some townspeople, many of them African American, picketed outside the newspaper’s offices and told CNN cameras that they thought it was “poor journalism” and a major oversight. Some interviewed even accused the newspaper and its publisher of racism for not carrying the news.

In response, the publisher said that readers most likely found the news they wanted about the election elsewhere, on the Internet or on television. The publisher also told CNN that readers do not generally turn to the Daily Herald for the “big news” — the paper, sensibly, focuses on local news and issues.

For me, this brings up the question of whether a newspaper, any newspaper, has a responsibility to report the big, popular, momentous news, even when it doesn’t fall within that paper’s “jurisdiction.” (I’ll admit, at the start, that I never heard of the Daily Herald before watching the story on CNN. I’m not going to haul off to its Web site to quickly peruse its content, either. We’ll consider this a thought experiment only.)

A small-town news paper should report small-town news, obviously. The paper should report on the issues that matter to its town and the news that happens in its town. That mandate can probably be applied to all newspaper, no matter how big they are. News that happens in that town is pretty self-explanatory, but “issues that matter to the town,” that’s a whole other issue.

With that issue, we run headlong into the chasm between editorial philosophy (what the newspaper thinks are the issues) and reader preference (what the readers want to see in the paper). On the editorial side, the philosophy could be based on telling the citizens of a democracy what they should know in order to be good citizens; or it could be based on trying to sell newspapers, in which case the editorial philosophy probably pays a lot of attention to the readers’ preferences.

On the readers preference side, we have people who have some idea what the issues are and want to see those particular issues covered in the paper. Pretty simple. Perhaps what the readers want to see isn’t particularly newsy (from a journalistic perspective) but it is “news” to the readers. It matters to them. Some people might be more inclined to buy a particular paper if it contains the types of news they want to see.

So in the case of this Oklahoma town, we have a newspaper that we being prescriptivist by omitting the Obama victory story. The publisher and editors decided that the newspaper’s “jurisdiction” did not cover the national election results, and it didn’t cover the story.

I can sympathize, but I don’t think the publisher’s rationale is good enough. The reason they didn’t publish the story is because he thought his readers already had the news from other sources and because he thought the other sources could cover it better than his newspaper possibly could. At some level, the publisher is admitting that he didn’t it was “news;” most people had already heard it, and his paper could not have added to the conversation. That seems lazy, but it’s editorially acceptable. I suppose.

But then there’s a nagging voice in the back of my head saying that the presidential election is major news that should be covered everywhere, even if every other news source in the country has already covered it.

Plus, there’s the race issue. As much as we may want to say that race wasn’t a factor in the presidential race, race was and is a big factor here. I’m not saying that the Daily Herald was being racist. Far from it. I’m saying that they ignored the race factor, which made this election one of the most important in history. Maybe it’s not the Daily Herald’s job to be reporting on race and presidential elections, but those things are still news, especially when they collide like they did on Nov. 4.

One other question, though, before I go. Why do these people want the news covered so badly in this small-town paper? Election Day has passed. Why berate this newspaper for a mistake it made last week? Why not move on and let things be?

On some level, I suspect it might be because the readers in this town wanted a big, splashy headline to save in the bottom of their sock drawers or in their photo albums, so that, years from now, they can look back and say, “Look at how big the news was! So big that even our little paper ran a 36-point headline.”

I don’t know who’s right and who’s wrong here. I’m not going to judge either. It’s just… a conundrum.

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2 thoughts on “Small-town paper lambasted for NOT publishing news of Obama victory

  1. I think it is fine the newspaper didn't cover this story, because it really wasn't “news” as in “everyone already knows it”. I think those protesters or anyone who call them racist is really racist themselves. The newspaper can easily come back with evidence that they are not racist if they show that they also didn't report any presidential election results in 2004, 2000, 1996, etc. If they have been doing this consistently, then that's their philosophy all along.

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