By Pachico A. Seares
Public & Standards Editor
Sun.Star Cebu and Sun.Star Superbalita [Cebu]
WHICH stories go to the main pages (in Sun.Star it’s 1, 2, 4) and which stories go to the rest of the news pages inside the paper?
Selection isn’t arbitrary. Evaluation is pretty much the same from paper to paper. News values hardly differ; news editors are guided by similar precepts on newsworthiness.
Why then do the top stories vary, especially on Page 1?
– One paper may have out-scooped the others; the story is the result of enterprise or luck;
– The focus or angle is different; one paper may have found meaning or significance of a fact, which the other papers may have missed or decided to underplay;
– A paper has an advocacy the other papers don’t agree with or don’t give special emphasis to;
– A paper is bound as a matter of editorial or publisher’s policy to play up only certain kinds of stories, e.g. local over national.
Not from ill-will.
A news source may wonder why the story about him or his office is given prominent display if the news is bad and buried in the inside pages if it is good (bad or good, that is, to the news source).
That happens sometimes but it results more from error in decision-making than from spite.
In most newspapers, it’s not only one person who decides on the “budget” (which story gets which space). In Sun.Star, it starts with the asst. news editor who makes the initial list of stories after lunch, then the news editor who revises the list towards deadline, and the editor-in-chief who finalizes the list on deadline hour, often in consultation with other editors, especially when a story from Sports, Business, Nation, or World must get into the main pages.
It requires a conspiracy if a paper systematically discriminates against a news source. And a post-publication review in Central Newsroom easily exposes any pattern of bias for or against anyone. Structure of decision-making and work critique, including response from the news source and other readers, is designed to keep a check and balance on editorial excess or error.
Why the suspicion.
There are news sources who don’t accept criticism and look with disfavor on unflattering stories. They want accomplishments to be magnified and failures obscured or undersized: a streak of human nature that thrives in government service.
A news source’s unmet expectation leads to doubt and suspicion. A politician, now retired, once complained, “Everyone in Sun.Star, from the editor to the janitor, hates me.” I’m not making that up; he’s alive and well and can confirm the quote and admit he was wrong (because the same people who he said hated him later awarded him for outstanding public service).
It’s absurd to think that a paper or its editors are driven by ill-will against any news source. No paper can live on hate and survive and, in case of Sun.Star, even prosper.
The fact is that the news source and the journalists are at cross-purposes. The news source wants only good things written about him or his work.
Journalists want to report or comment on matters of public interest even if some of them will put the news source in bad light.
The news source has redress if he thinks he’s unfairly treated or mistreated in news coverage or commentary. He has right of reply in a news interview or a letter to the editor or a complaint to the publisher or the press council.
A response beyond that — litigation, violence, or economic reprisal — will speak volumes of the news source’s view of the press and its role in public conversation.