From the editor: Your toughest questions will help us build a better newspaper
Two weeks ago, I asked our readers a bunch of questions that I have stepping into a new job leading Hearst’s newspapers in Connecticut. I’ve received hundreds of emails and phone calls, and would love more (firstname.lastname@example.org or 203-842-2556). But please be patient! It’s taking me some time to get back to everyone.
As it turns out, your answers so far lead me to more questions. But they’re questions we need to ask ourselves about how we report, write and distribute the news.
Why do so many feel there is an unfair political bias to how we write and present the news? Is that just about President Donald Trump, national news stories and the governor’s race, or is the polarization of our politics threatening faith in the way we report local news?
“You can see the bias in almost every article,” one longtime reader told me.
Others said reporters sometimes miss important context about a story, or it seems like one side of an issue has their ear.
We might be sincere in approaching the journalism we do with objectivity and fairness, but everyone is colored by their own experiences, circle of friends and list of sources. There are half a dozen ways of approaching any given story, and those choices can lead readers to totally different perceptions of an issue.
And the words we use, especially in headlines, matter so much. Is that caravan in Central America an “army” of migrants, as the Associated Press referred to it before backtracking the other day, or a walking humanitarian crisis of asylum seekers? And should we even be choosing to emphasize that story over something else, and what are the motives of the people who are trying to get it into the news cycle or out?
There are also some practical concerns.
Why can’t we get the paper delivered on time and on the front porch? Why has pricing seemed so complicated? Why do some people have to call multiple times to get an issue resolved?
Why can’t we make our websites easier to navigate? Why isn’t news about a particular town or a topic someone cares about easier to find and follow?
How do spelling and grammar errors end up being published? (I just hope our editorial page editors have my back on this column, even though I badly missed my deadline.)
How can we be more useful to people, writing for them, not just about them? Several people complained that they don’t find out about important local events until after the fact or too late to be involved.
And how do we balance coverage of the cities and the suburbs, town-by-town local news with regional or statewide topics and trends?
Not surprisingly, I heard from people who feel like we don’t cover local news the way we used to. People who don’t want to see out-of-town news in the paper.
Specifically, people who live in Monroe, Easton, Weston, Redding and Stratford, whose hometown weekly papers were recently shut down, are wondering what Hearst can do with the Connecticut Post, the Danbury News-Times, the Fairfield Citizen or the Westport News to step up coverage of those communities.
I also heard from many readers who want the paper to do a better job summarizing the most important news of the country and the world, especially at a time when so much is happening.
Others felt we have an opportunity to put the biggest questions facing Connecticut and the region in context, going in-depth on issues that cross town lines.
The readers who responded to my questions included people who have been subscribers for 25, 30, 40 and even 50 years. They shared some incredible story ideas, some of which you’ll see come to fruition in the weeks and months ahead.
Some readers rely on us as their main source of local and national news. Others turn to us as their local news source, but are also reading the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and numerous other media sources in print and online.
Despite his tough questions about how we can do better, one reader said this about how much money he was spending on a subscription to his local Hearst daily, his local weekly and some national news publications: “I consider this an important investment in democracy, which depends on well-informed voters.”
His thoughtful feedback, and yours, is helping us be a better steward of that investment. Keep asking the tough questions.
Matt DeRienzo is vice president of news and digital content for Hearst’s Connecticut newspapers. He can be reached at email@example.com or 203-842-2556.