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News -- its all about the packaging

Date: 4/12/2010

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

I look forward to participating in the Communications Conference presented by Western New England College (WNEC) every year, as it gives me the opportunity of meeting and speaking with people interested in media issues.

I was part of a 13-person panel of reporters and editors last week and despite the size of the group -- it was the largest ever -- it did not become some sort of steel cage royal rumble.

We all played nicely with one another because I think most people have professional respect for one another.

Needless to say, not every question posed by either moderator Steve Roulier or members of the audience could be answered by each member of the panel as it had been in previous years.

So here are my own two cents on a couple of intriguing questions.

One person asked about the responsibility of local media to try to help rebuild Springfield's reputation and business base. The comments from the panel were largely that media simply reports such matters but does not advocate.

I thought that was an interesting answer as the media advocates each and every day. I'm sorry if this blunt statement sounds like it is a denial of the sacred objectivity of journalism, but let's be real, folks. I believe we have a responsibility of covering a story from all of the sides we can, but I would be disingenuous if I said there isn't more to the presentation of stories than that.

The decisions of which stories get covered and then how those stories are presented are part of a viewpoint determined by editors and publishers. Each publication, television station and radio station that has a news operation has a news philosophy.

And if any of those outlets have an editorial component, they most definitely are presenting an opinion.

Local media outlets have certainly taken positions that could easily be interpreted as being pro- or anti-something and business has been one of those subjects.

For instance, I wrote a story on the recent news the city and state had reached a tax agreement with Titeflex that kept 101 jobs in Springfield. I thought it was front page worthy.

My counterparts at The Republican chose to put the story on an interior local news page.

They made their decision. I made mine. Readers can determine if there is a right or wrong here and what, if anything, that placement said.

That question was stated after a discussion about how media outlets were going to handle the results of a WNEC Polling Institute survey about how people view Springfield. The results show some mixed feelings, but one person was concerned that local newspapers and television stations would "spin" the story to the negative.

The verb "spin" ruffled a few feathers of some of the panel, but not mine. That is because there is "spin" here if you define "spin" as the frame in which editors elect to put a story. There are positive ways to present mixed news and there are negative ways.

Nationally, there are many people who bitterly complain of the "liberal" spin of the news. I don't see that, myself. I see a viewpoint that supports the goals of corporations.

Locally, though, the question concerns what attracts more consumers to your news product. The goal is to bring consumers so they will, hopefully, respond to advertising.

I think presenting a news package that follows the happenings in communities closer to the ground "hyper-local" is the new industry jargon for it is a solid approach. It includes both large and small stories, personal and political. This may be seen as more positive than negative.

Because we are weeklies, covering crime stories doesn't make much sense as events can happen at a pace that outstrips our publication schedule. So the "it bleeds, it leads" rule doesn't apply to us as it does to television stations and the daily 'papers.

Finally, a quick answer to the question about how the local press decides the subject of editorials. I will admit that if the subjects are champing at me during the week -- and they usually are -- when I sit down to write this column, they generally come to me from the ether while I'm driving.

Or I rely on Lucky the Wonder Bichon doing something stupid.

This column represents the opinions of its author. Send your comments online to or to 280 North Main St., East Longmeadow, MA 01028.