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Reader feedback is mostly positive

June 22, 2003|by JOHN LEAGUE

I was approached by a business leader at a meeting the other day, and the conversation started out something like this

"I know you hear a lot of criticism about the paper, but I wanted to commend your newspaper for "

Frankly, I've heard for a long time the assumption that the editors and reporters here handle a constant barrage of complaints from angry readers and news sources.

It simply doesn't happen.

It's one of the misperceptions about the newspaper and the role we play in the community.

Truth is, for every criticism I hear of the paper, I hear many more words of thanks and appreciation for the news stories we publish, particularly concerning feature stories about the people in our community doing good things.

So after that conversation, I asked our executive editor, Terry Headlee, to forward to me a smattering of the positive feedback we get from readers about the stories we've written.

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I posted them on a bulletin board here. It's quite impressive.

Fact is, most of the stories that appear in the paper are either positive or flattering, or it's information that's positive or flattering, such as academic honor rolls.

Let's look at our coverage of education.

If you only considered the amount of news space we devote to honor rolls of Washington County school students and measure that against the so-called "negative stories" our school officials sometimes point out, you'd find a disproportionate amount of "good news."

The gap would widen considerably if you measured all of the information we print about the local school system.

We do, of course, get some criticism about our news coverage. The most frequent complaints are from government and elected officials. And often they don't quibble with the accuracy of the story, but instead quibble with either the interpretation or that we published an unflattering story.

Many times, what they're really upset about is that we didn't write the story the way they wanted us to write it; that we didn't take their position or promote their cause. Not only do I accept the criticism, I embrace it.

The First Amendment gives the press protection so we can be your watch guard of government. We monitor what government does and how money is spent, and opine on the wisdom of the decisions elected officials make.

The paper should be accurate and fair. But we're not about the business of being liked by the government officials we cover. That doesn't mean we have to be jerks in the manner in which we approach our work. We shouldn't be. We should act professionally and honorably.

At the end of the day, though, the newspaper's job is to hold elected officials accountable to the public - our readers. Elected officials and the government they administer are here to serve you, not the newspaper. Good newspapers represent the interests of their readers and the community, not the interests of the newspaper. And our readers seem to appreciate it.

We give our readers the opportunity to comment about their government, their community, to criticize or offer praise. Many of you offer opinions, too, when you write a letter to the editor.

Every day our goal is to reflect the community in which we live. To hold our government accountable, to highlight the achievements of members of the community and to keep you informed of what is going on.

That is what we strive to do. Most of the time we do it well. Sometimes not as well as we'd like. But that's our goal every day.

And as a reader, most often you tell us that is a good thing.




John League is editor and publisher of The Herald-Mail. He can be contacted at 301-733-5131, extension 7073, or by e-mail at jleague@herald-mail.com.

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