Today’s customized news

Regional commentary by Jeff Burgar

Every so often, we would get a phone call or a personal visit from one of our business people. He would say, “Hey, I’m having a big sale. Write up a story about it! And it should be on the front page!”
This might sound silly. But it’s interesting to think about. In this case, we have a perfectly respectable business person thinking our local media should be interested in something unusual – to whit, his “big sale.” Now consider, is there really any difference between his selling of suits and shoes to earn a living, or the Girl Guides selling cookies to help pay for their doings? In one sense, they are all raising funds. But we call one a business, and the other a charity. After drawing these imaginary lines in our minds, we can move on with how we each deal with them.
For us, perhaps the newspaper could have offered a swap to our pesky business man. Swaps are common in radio. If radio needs a car, or some gift certificates, they swap air time. It’s easy enough to stick something in empty holes across 24 hours of a day. Print media has to put another roll of paper on the press, fill out forms at the post office, deliver the product around to stores, and generally, do work and pay material costs. In print, swaps, or “contra” as it is officially called, don’t pay bills.
That said, maybe we should have countered our business person with, “Sure. And since we are promoting, how about you give me some nice winter parkas, snow boots, jean jackets, mitts and everything my family and friends need for cold weather. We will tell everybody where they came from! Sound like a deal?”
In the end, the whole point of this column is, we all have different ideas what is, or is not, “news.” On sliding scales of importance, each of us might rank stories about family, relatives, friends, work, holidays, vehicle repairs, home repairs, local gossip, world affairs, and retirement all in that kind of order. That order changes every time something happens. If Bobby fails a test, that could move to the top. If the furnace quits, or a house burns, or the truck won’t start, that is the big news of the day for us as individuals.
For all of us in the news business, we used to make decisions on what news would affect the most people, and that would be where we directed our limited resources. These days, that is still a guiding principle. But also these days, many news providers target certain segments of the population with stories slanted to those segments. Trump haters get MSNBC. Semi-conservatives get The Sun. These days, big media, under the guise of being “fair” selects news that panders to their target market. Oh well.
Winter is upon us. This newspaper tries hard to be a “generalist” news outlet. So maybe it is true a “parka sale” is real news in our shivering towns!

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