The importance factor

Friday, October 10, 2008

By: Hannah Pickett

As a sports editor of a small town, community newspaper, I am forced to determine every week which sport(s) take precedence over others in terms of page layout. It is typically not a difficult task-winning, noteworthy teams on top.

Well, this week I have run into a bit of an editing issue. The Madisonian covers three high school teams: Winterset, Interstate 35, and Earlham. Football is a very major sport across Madison County, so it almost always is front page, above the fold.

Winterset football is in its worst season in years, and before tonight had just one win. Interstate 35 football is semi-decent, but nothing exciting to talk about. Earlham football is on fire, undefeated and contending for a District championship.

Tonight, both Earlham and Winterset won. Earlham advances 7-0, and Winterset adds one win to total two on the season. The noteworthy thing about Winterset's win is that it was the final home game of the season, and it was a win 48-20 over Creston, a team which we haven't beaten in any sport in the past seven years.

Earlham obviously deserves more coverage and beefed up press, but with the paper printed in Winterset, and the majority of subscribers and readers in Winterset, chances are the focus of this week's sports section will be on Winterset's second season win, not Earlham's undefeated season and seventh win.

Now, this is an issue that would probably never arise in a large city where the newspaper and its staff were to appear unbiased and completely objective. In that situation, Earlham would get the most print, and Winterset would be mentioned, but not the key point.

Since the Madisonian traditionally is skewed toward Winterset readers, Winterset's football story will be the focus and lime light.

My question is this: Despite the differences between small town and big city newspapers, by taking a side and reporting in a completely biased fashion for a small town paper make someone a 'bad journalist'? In terms of writing for the demographic of readers, how far is too far before you cross the line between journalist and, in this case, Winterset cheerleader and supporter?


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