New Castle News

September 21, 2013

Bob Vosburg: Hey, give us a ‘good writeup’

Bob Vosburg
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — Every once in a while, somebody asks me if I am ever going to write a book.

I probably never will, but if I do it will be observations gleaned from 30-plus years as a newspaper reporter and editor, and I know what I’ll call it.

The title will be, “Give Us a Good Writeup.”

I have heard that plea possibly a thousand times, and it bothers me as much today as it ever did.

What is a “good writeup” anyway, and why do people feel compelled to ask for one? Every newspaperman I know wants his work to be good.

Actually, “good” has nothing to do with it. Very often, the best written, best reported stories are not considered “good writeups” by the people who read them.

I think what people really are asking is, “How about saying something nice about me (or my mother or my boss or my kid or my team)” or “Make sure you write your story so that it will please me (or us).”

A newsman’s job is first of all to report what happens as accurately as he can. He is trained to keep his opinions out of his news stories or “writeups” and to present the facts — whether they be positive or negative.

It is not the news reporter’s job to “give” rewards; it is his job to observe and record. However, some people have trouble remembering this, and expect the newspaper to cap their achievements with the “good writeup.”

I’d like to have a dollar for every time I’ve been told that some teenager “deserves” more recognition than he has gotten because he “worked hard” at practicing football or rehearsing the school play or studying for the spelling bee.

Those are all commendable pursuits, and it is the newspaper’s job to report them. If the resulting story turns out to be complimentary, so much the better, but it is not the newspaper’s job to hand out print bouquets at the expense of everything else.

Certainly, most youngsters get sufficient praise from their coaches or their teachers or their peers and/or their parents when they do well, and that should be enough.

If their greatest concern is that they receive recognition for their deeds, their energies are misdirected. They should be playing football or taking part in the play or studying because they want to and get satisfaction from it, not to see how much publicity they can get. If done well, all of those things require hard work, the same as anything else in life that is worthwhile, and people will recognize the effort without being forced.

In all fairness to the kids, however, it has been my experience that they are not nearly as interested in the publicity as their parents are. All good parents are proud of what their youngsters achieve, and they should be, but they shouldn’t get carried away to the extent that the local newspaper is held responsible for anything more than simply reporting the event.

Newspaper reporters are not cheerleaders. Sometimes in the interest of truth, they have to report things that are unpleasant or uncomplimentary, and they have a responsibility to do just that, even though that truth often hurts somebody.

A newspaper can build credibility only through accurate reporting, not by glossing over the truth to make somebody or something look good. Readers would quickly see through that kind of reporting, and, like the boy crying “Wolf,” the newspaper soon would not be believable at all.

So, you see, it’s entirely possible that the so-called “good writeup” might be a bad writeup after all.