New Castle News

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September 30, 2013

Mitchel Olszak: Newspapers are still a mystery to some people

NEW CASTLE — Newspapers have been around for a long time.

So you would think people would have gotten the hang of them by now.

Yet I constantly encounter folks who seem to have no idea about what we do and the role we play in providing information.

But here’s the point everyone ought to understand about newspapers: We publish for the benefit of readers. Our goal is to give readers the news they want and need. It’s not about making sources or other entities happy.

Take the conversation I had the other day with a business executive whose company had submitted a press release. He was shocked to learn we had no intention of publishing the release verbatim.

The press release contained legitimate news that was of obvious interest to readers. But much of it was written in corporate and technical jargon that would have been incoherent to most people. Newspapers strive for clarity, in language everyone can understand.

The press release also included gaps of crucial information. Perhaps this was intentional, or perhaps the people behind the release didn’t think to include the details. Regardless, we were obliged to contact someone to fill in the blanks.

We do this not to offend businesses or the egos of their executives, but to serve our readers. If readers are left scratching their collective heads after looking at a news story, we haven’t done our job.

Among the requests we routinely receive at The News (and no doubt it’s the same at every paper in the country) are those involving  individuals who have been arrested and want to keep that information out of print.

These requests come in various forms: A relative is ill and the news would be devastating. The arrestee was told we will keep news out if asked to do so. It’s a private matter and nobody’s business.

None of these arguments work. We publish all arrests. While some receive more attention than others — depending on the severity of the crimes or their unusual natures — every criminal charge and citation in the county appears in the Daily Record of The News.

Sometimes our news stories originate with tips provided by the public. It’s a good way to get useful information.

But not every tip is productive. Tipsters may be repeating rumors that aren’t true or they offer information we can’t confirm.

And that’s key to a newspaper. The fact someone has heard something or believes something does not make it news. We have to check it out.

I recently dealt with a business owner who was concerned negative information we had received about his establishment would wind up in print, even though it wasn’t accurate.

It took a great deal of explaining on my part to assure him that we do not automatically publish what someone tells us. I’m still not sure he understood.

Tips can produce great stories. They also can produce dead ends. It all depends on where they lead and what we learn.

And anything we do as a result is intended to serve the reader. That’s the priority.

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