March 8, 2009
A reader called on Thursday morning and chewed me out something fierce. She wanted to know why there were no reports in The Democrat until that morning about the fire that destroyed Calhoun High School very early the previous Saturday morning.
Plain and simple, we didn’t know about it. The fire happened at 1 a.m. — so even if someone had called to let us know about it, there wouldn’t have been anyone in our newsroom to pick up the phone. Over the weekend, we checked in with folks in Henry County but there was no notice provided that anything had happened.
We have a pretty small staff — four news reporters; one full-time and two part-time sports reporters; and two photographers — for the amount of territory that we cover. Those journalists do their best to find out about as much as they can what is happening in our circulation area, but we are not omniscient. That’s where you come in.
We welcome phone calls and e-mail messages from readers to let us know about newsworthy events and people in our area. Those tips will help us do a better job of conveying meaningful and interesting information to our readers.
Sometimes, we will already be aware of what a reader is calling to share; other times, what someone calls in may not be something to which we would be able to devote our limited resources.
But again, that is where you come in. If we are not able to cover something, readers can submit photographs and short write-ups about activities of general interest for publication. For example, photographs for our “The Democrat Salutes” feature are all submitted by readers.
On Friday we got a call requesting we cover an event that was taking place just a couple of hours later; we get such calls rather frequently. Now, impromptu things happen and we react to them as quickly as we can. But in this case, the event had been planned far enough in advance that organizers should have given us a head’s up at least a week earlier, which would have allowed us to work it into our staff’s schedule.
When news breaks, we jump to cover it. But when we aren’t notified about a private group’s long-scheduled event until the last minute, it is hard to give it priority over stories our reporters are already working on.
We want to report accurately and promptly about the things that matter to our customers. To that end, here are some tips that will give your information the best chance of getting onto our Web site and on the pages of The Democrat:
• Provide complete information. Who, what, when, where, why, how — the standard five Ws and an H. Also include a C — contact name and phone number, so we can follow up if we have questions or if we want to schedule a reporter and/or photographer to provide coverage.
• E-mail, standard mail, fax or phone. Send your items to us via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org; by standard mail at Newsroom, The Sedalia Democrat, P.O. Box 848, Sedalia, MO 65302; via fax at (660) 826-0400; or call (660) 826-1000, ext. 222.
• There’s no such thing as “too early.” As soon as you know a time, date and place for your event, share it with us. That way, if we are not able to provide coverage, we can let you know and then you can determine if you want to send follow-up information to us after the event. As I noted before, we have staffing limitations, so we just cannot get to everything; that does not mean your item should not be shared with the community.
• We can’t publish everything. While we do the best we can to get as much as possible into the paper on a day-to-day basis, we have a finite amount of space each day and we have to prioritize our content. That means that we cannot be all things to all people. To get back to the Calhoun complainer, she would prefer we not publish any information from outside of Pettis County; now, if we were to eliminate our entire wire report — no state, national or international news — we’re certain we’d hear from a bunch of you. We try to strike a balance every day.
The vast majority of our content, from news stories and police reports to sports coverage and school notes, is local. For example, over the final week of February, we published 321 stories in the print edition of The Democrat, 252 of which were local (79 percent). We also had 199 local faces in the paper during that period.
The Democrat is your source for local news. With a little help from readers, we can perform that function better every day.