Adrift in a
torrent of news

When it rains, it… well, you know the rest. You lived it this week. And we’re not talking about just the weather.

From lingering animosity over jail towers and new competition for local hospitals to additional charges lodged against young partiers, we’ve been deluged by news that, quite honestly, we take no particular pleasure in reporting.

Believe it or not, journalists don’t dream of scandals and controversy but of morally uplifting tales, which we try to offer each week. The difference between professionals and amateurs is that, unlike amateurs, we don’t stick our heads in the sand and ignore news that readers, for whatever reason, want to know.

Among the blessings and curses of online editions are that everything people read is instantly tallied. Our stories this month about a party gone bad have generated four times the readership of our next most popular story, about a boa constrictor found along a county road. Since we reach about equal numbers of readers in print and online (15,000 for each), that’s a lot of interest in a county with only 12,000 residents.

The party also has generated a huge number of tips from readers — rumors, really, since none of them can be confirmed. We don’t know, for example, why prosecutors chose to lodge charges of interfering with law enforcement against two partygoers. In most states, specific information about behavior alleged to have been criminal is included in legal documents released to the public. In Kansas, it is not.

What we can put a stop to are some of the rumors. One is that all of this somehow reflects poorly on the principal whose house was the scene of the party. Even some of his closest associates have questioned how he can deal with students after his daughter’s party was raided while he was out of town.

Hogwash. Most of the partygoers were college-age youths. As a professor who merely moonlights (without compensation, I might add) as a community journalist, I can categorically tell you that the vast majority of people that age — good, moral people — attend parties just like the one that was busted.

How the principal handled the situation was, in our opinion, exemplary. Rather than refuse to comment, he was open and honest, going so far as to insist that his daughter deal with the logical consequences of her actions by answering reporters’ questions.

Another rumor to dispel is that we report stories like this — or any of the others in this category — just to “sell papers.” Yes, our single-copy sales rose last week, as did our number of online viewers, but the combined economic impact totaled just $32.25 — or 2 percent of the net amount of revenue we forgo each week by publishing the Chaplain Kapaun biography.

That’s also about half the amount we save every township and special district in the county by working with the county clerk to make their budget notices as compact as possible — something no other neighboring newspaper bothers to do because, quite frankly, it would cost them money.

Our goal is to get you engaged, not enraged. That’s why we talk about how government officials spend your money, enforce your liquor laws, and do all the other things we write about.

Personally, we care less about a principal’s daughter having a party than we do about the revolving door for drug abusers at Marion County Jail and the cancer patient we wrote about last week, whose gun-toting husband was accused of drunkenly beating her after helping her tick a helicopter ride off her bucket list.

This week, careful readers will notice, the estranged husband managed to get himself excluded from a lawsuit over her medical bills. Talk about when it rains it pours . . . .

— ERIC MEYER

 

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