SCHEER: The challenge of coverage choices

Mark Scheer

In a world of unlimited resources, our newspapers wouldn't miss a thing. 

If we had a team of dozens of reporters, there would be more stories, more local content, more investigatory work and more for you, our readers, to enjoy on our websites and in our pages.  

This is not the modern reality, not in a world where newspapers aren't as profitable as they once were and, as a result, newsroom resources are more limited. 

As is the case with any company in a similar situation, our staff must make daily choices about where best to allocate our resources. 

It can be difficult to figure just what it is readers want out of their local newspaper. No two are alike. Focusing in on one area can actually please Reader A while irritating Reader B. 

Don't think we don't talk about reader happiness.

We do all the time. 

A good recent example of the sort of internal dialogue that drive coverage decisions involved New York's single-use plastic bag ban. 

It was suggested during a recent editorial board meeting that we do a story about the decision by Wegmans to stop giving out single-use plastic bags on Jan. 27, weeks before the state-imposed deadline to do so on March 1.  

There's no doubt the story would be of interest to a lot of people, especially those who do their shopping at Wegmans.

I wondered, however, if it was worth our time given that it had already been widely reported by the Buffalo News and all three local television news stations.  

In an era of non-stop website updates, Twitter feeds and social media posts, it doesn't take long to become inundated with the "same" news about the "same" subject, especially in Western New York where the three local television stations offer hours worth of news broadcasts morning, noon and night. 

I am of the mind that there comes a point where a story — even a potentially important or interesting one — can become "white noise" to people after they hear or read it enough. 

Unless we are reporting it first or can come up with a unique or more interesting angle, I'm inclined to pass on a story about plastic bags that has already been widely reported. 

I think we are at our best when we go where others haven't gone or aren't going to go until we go there first. 

If we're doing our jobs right, you'll find stories on our websites and in our pages that you won't find anywhere else, at least not at first. 

There have been a several strong examples of where we have offered unique coverage in recent weeks. 

In Niagara Falls, reporter Rick Pfeiffer put together a Sunday story on an uptick in car break-ins in the downtown tourism district that was developed after we noticed a trend in police reports related to thefts from motor vehicles. 

The story sparked immediate discussion when it was posted to our Facebook page and prompted similar reports to follow from at least two of the "big three" local news stations. 

Reporter Mia Summerson, acting on a tip from our business office manager Diana Henry, was the first local reporter to cover efforts by the firm Niagara International Sports and Entertainment to revive the old Sears store inside the long-dormant Summit Mall. Her story about the installation of gyms and batting cages inside the building was one of the most widely read on the Niagara Gazette website that week. The development has also been subsequently covered by the Buffalo News, WIVB and WKBW. 

In Lockport, the Union-Sun & Journal has continued to provide coverage on the Lockport School District's facial recognition system and, just this past week, the New York Times published an article of its own on the subject with the online version referencing earlier reporting done by US&J reporter Connor Hoffman and former US&J reporter Tim Fenster. 

In recent weeks, Hoffman has been providing continuing coverage of the situation involving well-liked district peer mediator Ron Cheatham who, due to his age and situation, will soon be leaving his job despite strong support for him to stay from dozens of students and district residents. 

While the US&J is not the only news outlet to cover the story, it is the only one to have covered a student-let protest held Friday as a show of support for Cheatham. 

This is by no means Pulitzer Prize-winning stuff, but all of it is unique to our newspapers.

It is also clearly relevant to people as evidenced by the number who have visited our websites to read our stories on these subjects. 

When we are first in reporting an interesting development and when we offer more in-depth coverage of issues of intense local interest, we provide our best value as community organizations. 

We do not get it right all the time nor are we satisfied with out output most days. 

It's important for our readers to understand that we while doing our job with limited can be a challenge, it is one members of our newsrooms take seriously. 

We can't cover everything. 

To be effective, we must be smart in our selection of what we cover and how we cover it. 

In doing so, we must always keep in mind what our readers might find informative, enlightening, entertaining and, most importantly, worth their money to read. 

    

Mark Scheer is the regional news director for the Niagara Gazette and the Lockport Union-Sun & Journal. He can be reached by email or by telephone at 282-2311, ext. 2250. 

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