Seares: Fuss over a Christmas tree story and how to handle a press release

DISAGREEMENT over editorial decisions made by the editor of a Sun.Star newspaper (not in Cebu) erupted and stayed briefly in Facebook in the past two weeks. They are minor controversies, particularly to most of the public, but they may shed light on how content and display in a newspaper take shape and what may influence the media outlet’s decision-makers in the future.

One was over the Page 1 and banner-headline treatment of a story about the launching of a shopping mall’s Christmas tree. The other was the handling of a press release, which the sender wanted as a news story but the editor preferred to be an op-ed piece.

Editor’s call

In both cases, the editor made the call. That’s his job. He may have decided alone or with the help of other editors but he bears the responsibility and the brunt of answering criticisms. Sometimes the editor decides wrongly, in the heat of deadline (often the whipping boy of an excuse) or for other reasons. And just as he takes most of the credit for the paper’s success, as shown in its professional and commercial success, he accounts for its failure, which may be underscored by missteps or blunders.

The public complained. More precisely, one person brought it up on FB but, as what often happens, “friends” who have worked with media or familiar with the practice jumped in, mostly agreeing with the criticism, which was summed up thus: “Kung GC, este Christmas tree, BANNER story Pagkundina sa garbage gikan Korea, NADA! #tunoljournalism #pataygutomjournalism.”

Banner treatment

One decision was tied to the other by the criticism: the first “failure” to support the flak on the second.

The question about the top display of the Christmas tree inaugural was valid, especially if another story in the same news cycle could be cited as more significant or interesting. The “competing” story is vital but so is the policy of the paper on “feel-good” stories.

Media is often criticized for focusing on the bad and ugly; an occasional variation will be welcome. But definitely it was the editor’s play. He could be held to answer to his publisher and the paper’s public. Rate it as hit or miss, but it’s on his score card.

News or op-ed

As to how a press release may be handled, that again is the province of the editor. The exchange between the p.r. sender and the editor offers insight into the advantage of using it as a news story or as an op-ed piece. The news story, to the p.r. person, gives it more impact and immediacy but the message is cut to the bone. The op-ed piece, longer and more thorough, presents the position better.

But here’s what may have been lost in the “quarrel” over its treatment: it could be used in both, with the short version in the news referencing the op-ed material. Digitally, it can be done easily, what with the vast online space and the technology of linking related materials.

The acrimony came down to whether the editorial choice of form was being partial to official news sources and marginalizing the voices that have no backing from the state.

Reference to corruption

Unfortunate was the suspicion of bribery or favors swapped. The reference to “GC” or gift certificate, “tunoljournalism” and “pataygutomjournalism” raised that to the level of an accusation by innuendo. The talk of alleged corruption tends to divert the issue, unless there is evidence of clear bribery, not just the assailed editorial decisions or the rumor about them.

We will not go into that . In Cebu, we had that sad experience a few years ago where a number of journalists went ballistic over the reference in a CCPC documentary short video about “possible” corruption in media. Many media practitioners, who routinely expose in news stories or condemn in opinion columns corruption among government officials, would not want media corruption talked about even among themselves.

• • •

If your paper were a person, is it a man or a woman?

THAT was asked by Nieman Journalism Lab about “Financial Times,” the international paper based in London, and the consensus was that FT is a man.

Meaning, the Times is more useful to men who need it more than women do. Only 20 per cent of the paper’s print and digital subscribers are women.

These days of journalism on-demand and getting the news, feature or opinion whenever and wherever it is needed, knowing what the paper is and what it wants to be is crucial to finding its niche in the market.


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