Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

Columns

September 25, 2011

Deciding the news is no trivial matter

Who decides what’s news? The editor? The publisher? The readers? The advertisers? The space? The day? The deadline? Sure, all of the above, some more, some less.

I submit, “I am a decider,” and take that responsibility seriously.

For the most part, the reporter on the scene and on the phone decides what’s news. The editor assigns the beats and the stories, the readers offer suggestions and may lobby for an issue, the advertisers pay the bills. Often times, the deadline dictates.

As one editor on deadline once said, “Just shovel it.”

We don’t do that, but reporters have to think on their feet. We can prepare in advance and take notes, but when Joe Carter hits a three-run home run in the bottom of the ninth to win the World Series, one has to scramble. That’s part of the fun, the excitement of sports.

There’s no script.

Recently I’ve been assigned to a new beat, the county Legislature, and I’m feeling my way into a different territory. A friend blew it off, saying, “They don’t do anything anyway.” (He lives in Erie County.)

However, with a 2011 budget of $268,810,541, the legislature must be doing something.

A lot of it is dictated by state and federal mandates, but how much of the meetings are scripted? Sometimes I feel like everybody knows what’s coming. The legislators blow off preferred items on the agenda to save time.

The residents on the sidelines have three minutes at the podium to talk about agenda items and seem to sit down frustrated.

Last Tuesday’s meeting started right on time at 7 p.m. There were newsworthy presentations by Cornell Cooperative Extension and the North Tonawanda American Legion. The auditor’s report seemed very important, but so did an issue involving the County Refuse Disposal District. The new interns were introduced.

It wasn’t until 10:30 p.m. when the meeting adjourned and citizens could say what’s on their mind. Mr. Deadline called me away, however, and I missed their parting shots.

Chairman Bill Ross came under fire during the citizens’ session on agenda items. Eleven people spoke. Perhaps seven of 11 were critical of Ross.

The issue may have been manufactured news and electioneering, but it was not a trivial matter. It revolved around free speech and order in the court. The speakers had different ways of getting to the point and made good points.

The legislators voted down a resolution that would require the county to issue an apology 15-1. I decided the controversy was a noteworthy, but the audit was the news.

Contact reporter Bill Wolcott

at 439-9222, ext. 6246.

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