You are the editor

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It’s a slow period in the news business, so it seems to me that selecting the top story of the day is easy — and it’s not about shopping, a story that is done every year, the same way, on the same day, and never has any real substance to it. It’s Mumbai. But then again, I’m old school.

So let’s play “you are editor.” You’re the person who decides what story will be at the top of the newspaper, or lead-off the nightly TV newscast, or be at the top of your organization’s Web page.

Last night, as Indian commandos stormed Nariman House in Mumbai (where, unfortunately, the five hostages were killed), KSTP led its 10 p.m. newscast with a shocker — get it? — about the state High School League pushing for AEDs in school, CNN featured Larry King talking to some Hollywood bimbo, and Nightline presented a piece on mental illness among veterans, which — while important — has been done many times. If you wanted to follow the story on TV, you were out of luck; it wasn’t being covered on any national or local channels.

This morning, a check of the major news Web sites in the Twin Cities (about 10 of them) shows that only one — the Pioneer Press — considered the Mumbai story the top story. It’s a particularly puzzling situation when you consider that the assault happened after people went to bed.

True, the Mumbai story lacks the “elusive Minnesota connection” that we newsies here seem to insist is necessary for Minnesotans to grasp the complexities of a story, but doesn’t this story transcend that? And are we really that insular or do news bosses just think we are?

You decide. You’re in charge. In what order would you present the day’s news, keeping in mind you want people to pay attention to what you have to say? (And be sure to give a reason, you know how your reporters can be!)

By the way, if you’re not really into the long lines at Victoria’s Secret or Best Buy, you might be interested in following this excellent blog from Mumbai.

Update 10:49 a.m. – I wonder if part of the “problem” (if you consider what’s been described as a problem) is an outdated portrait of what a “Minnesotan” is. This image from a story MPR’s Mike Edgerly a few years ago is intriguing:

They’re all Minnesotans, too. Are their news needs being satisfied? Are they different?

11:11 a.m. a.m. Here’s how one area news crew made its decision. This is a screen grab of a Web page at a TV station in Boston, which was once considered the best local TV station in America.

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Not only is the top story about a murdered blonde, white TV anchor (Update 6:47 p.m. Just so we’re clear here. News is a tough business so my questioning the value of the anchorwoman story is not meant to diminish the value of her life. However, as editor,you do have to explain why her life is more newsworthy than the nearly 200 who died in Mumbai, or even –in this case — the two people who were killed on Boston’s streets on Thanksgiving that weren’t considered newsworthy.) but the Mumbai story isn’t listed anywhere on the page. It comes up in rotation with 5 other stories — holiday shopping, someone hit by an Amtrak train, and what kids are thankful for). The Mumbai story is last in rotation. You’d have to watch the screen for 21 seconds (a lifetime for Web pages) before Mumbai appears. So that’s how they ranked their story choices, fyi.

The page is put together by the Mendota Heights-based Internet Broadcasting System.

Update 2:40 p.m. Here’s how some papers played it:

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The Birmingham paper thought it was neither the top, nor second story, but third, about on a par with “Bama fever,” which now that I think of it, is a world threat.

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The problem in Anchorage, perhaps, is they can’t see India from their backyards.

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In San Francisco, it turns out cable cars are old technology. Who knew?

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The Denver Post, an area with neither cable cars nor “Bama fever.” The other paper in town, the Rocky Mountain News (owned by the same person who owns the Pioneer Press) also had just the India story on page one. A lot of people in journalism like to suggest DeanSingleton , the owner, is a threat to the future of journalism. Not today.

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In St. Cloud, the big story is the auto dealers are surviving. PS: The hostages died.

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What does St. Cloud know, that Lincoln, Nebraska doesn’t?

Update 2:58 p.m. – For some really compelling pictures, check out the Boston Globe. Some are very graphic, however. (h/t: Peter Berge via Twitter)

  • Confused

    Your own site doesn’t even think it’s the top story. What are you screaming about?

  • Mumbai. hands down. But, then again I’m an amateur, freelance journalist who happens also to be a Minnesotan currently in Asia so I might not be giving it the “fair” and “balanced” thought that an “objective” or “traditional” journalist might give it. It seems to me that something like what is going on in India right now (or Thailand for that matter) has a Minnesotan connection in that when things like terrorist bombings of hotels wherein hundreds are killed and several more wounded, meanwhile the attack continues in another part of Mumbai, with the target of both apparently being foreigners, there is bound to be someone who has a connection with India; someone in Minnesota, maybe even a significant portion of the population, that is going to want to know what is happening. But again, what do I know?

  • Bob Collins

    //our own site doesn’t even think it’s the top story. What are you screaming about?

    See paragraph 4.

  • Lily

    Oh, I love being the editor and haven’t been since junior high.

    I rely on my news to make my world bigger, which means I don’t need a Minnesota “connection” from anyone.

    Mymbai IS the biggest story of the day, hand’s down and it’s the medias job to report it that way.

  • I appreciate that our local channels’ “niche” is giving us news that speaks to what is happening in and around Minnesota. The problem is that they do toe the water and air national/international stories. Because they aren’t focused on that segment of stories, the selection they DO choose to highlight is random at best, dumbed down at worst. Mumbai terrorism and anti-western sentiment should definitely be a larger conversation in local media, Minnesota connection or not.

  • Resham Bhattacharya

    I am heartened to hear that sanity exists and atleast some one is willing to accept that most of the american media is ignoring the fact that this terriorist attack is no less menial than the Sept 11th. 01 attacks except that airplanes are not invloved. I have repeatedly heard reports on NPR saying that the Indian Prime Minister blamed Pakistan as it has often done in the past. This statement tends to imply that this is a blame game and pakstan has been accused at times maybe without involvement. This is simply not true. In fact if the facts of this incident are checked, two ships have been detained by the Indian navy and the coast guard at Gujarat, called MV alpha and Al Kabir. These came from Karachi, Pakistan and supposedly carried some of the gunmen to Mumbai. Also one terriorist caught alive said he was from Faridkot, Pakistan. I am shocked an d disappointed that this part of the news was carefully not reported in the American media!!

  • Matt

    A moratorium on all Black Friday stories should be in effect anyway. This year, I’d be willing to make an exception if there were zero shoppers lining up as a true indicator of tough economic times. But since that didn’t happen, B1 at best.

    Mumbai would still be the top story. We need someone to pull this drip/drab that happens while we are sleeping all together. What does it mean, what happens now, what will happen on Jan. 20th, etc.

    But thinking about England vs. Spain vs. Mumbai on terrorist attack coverage, my theory about English speaking victims has gone out the window. Apparently we only care when they whole country (and not just the targets and the victims) both sound and look like Americans. So we’re talking a pretty narrow window of empathy here.

  • Matt

    I also hate, hate, hate stories with contrived Minnesota connections. It actually makes me care less about a story. So maybe I’m biased, too.

  • Paul

    Yeah,

    Well, local new channels pay big bucks to marketing pinheads who tell them how to “connect” to local audiences. Hyper localism is the latest big idea from the twenty-something brain trust. The irony of course is that we don’t need to be made to feel connected, we are connected by our humanity, and we tend to recognize this instinctively. Whether or not someone who lives next door is in Mumbia, we naturally feel connected to the plight of other human beings. The BBC seems to get this, if you look or listen to their coverage of everything from our economy, to any other world crises, it seems to be a given that we care, whether or not anyone near us is involved. Localism diminishes our humanity, it doesn’t enhance it… and it’s just plain boring. There’s an entire world of stories out there, and we get ten minutes of athletes who have nothing interesting to say about anything, and “good questions” about whether or not it’s safe to eat something that’s been dropped on the floor. And they wonder why circulation and viewership is down?

  • Adam

    How many people go to local media Websites to get World or National News?

    The answer is a move towards personalization of news delivery where the individual gets to be editor by choosing what’s important to them and having that displayed front and center.

    Bob may want world news. “the twenty-something brain trust” may want hyper local news. Others will want Sports.

  • Bob Collins

    These are all fine points, but you have to answer them because you’re the editor, remember (g)

    In the past, the argument has been “they can always get that elsewhere,” and that was true at one time, before, well… before you couldn’t get it somewhere else. But over time news organizations began definiing themselves by what they’re not instead of what they are.

    There’s no question that newsies think, for example, that a 1-ballot shift between Coleman and Franken in the canvas in Becker County was huge news, even thugh it actually wasn’t any news at all — there was going to be a recount so the canvas had no real value.

    But the question is are the “newsies” really in touch with the locals? The locals might be a heck of a lot smarter than they’re being given credit for. The general assumption in newsrooms is that a story isn’t of interest to a local audience until it has a local angle. Far less interesting than say, dancing anchors, segments on the local news about “favorite ring tones,” or covering the story of where mucus comes from. Is something news because it’s interesting, or is something news because it’s important? It’s both, of course, and the secret recipe is figuring out the balance between the two.

    By the way, I used to have the same argument when I was managing editor of online about “rural issues.” Some folks wanted more stories that happened in a rural community, as if stuff at the Capitol, for example, was a “metro issue.”

    I think there are times when it’s probably not a good idea to pander to a local audience and just say, “maybe on first glance you don’t think this affects you or you’re not interested in it, but here’s why you should be.”

    In many ways, we’re still journalistic practitioners of the Monroe Doctrine.I The next time some foreign journalists come through the Twin Cities (and this is usually one of their stops), it’ll be interesting to ask them whether this is an American phenomenon.

    By the way, i don’t want “local news” and I don’t want “world news,” I want news.

  • mulad

    Yes, I was very baffled that the Mumbai story wasn’t getting much attention on Wednesday and Thursday. I was away from cable TV starting Wednesday afternoon, so I don’t know if the local TV stations just decided to cede the territory to CNN and MSNBC, or if they didn’t cover it later. Is this the time for sweeps? It felt like the headline stories on KARE’s 10 PM airing on Wednesday had been planned days in advance, so my mother and I tuned to PBS to watch BBC World News instead. Nightline did devote their show to the Mumbai attacks on Wednesday, though they only covered it for the first ten minutes or so on Thursday.

    Somewhat disturbing to me personally was that I’ve been shifting to getting “news” via RSS feeds lately, but the Mumbai story didn’t get popular enough until much later to get included, and then only tangentially. But, as my mother has observed ever since Reagan was shot in 1981, the early reporting for the first 24 hours of an unexpected event is always filled with misinformation. Unfortunately, since we run on a 24-hour cycle these days, a day-old incident doesn’t get the deeper analysis it once would have, and we end up with repeats of bad info or only simple, glib overviews of what happened.

  • Matt

    Um, what newsroom has a brain trust made up of twenty-somethings?

    Seriously though, the lack of editorial clarity for newscasts, the front page and the lede stories on websites is pathetic. But the problem isn’t twenty-somethings. Apathy, laziness, lack of vision, lack of news judgement, inabilty to pick and stick with a story; all of those qualities do not discriminate by age.

  • laura

    so i think a parallel question might be: how ‘insulated’ (within themselves) does a particular city become? do they feel connected with far away, distant places or not? do they have to look outside of themselves for things they need on a regular basis?

    do they have a significant ethnic population that has been somewhat integrated into society? does their population prioritize a lot of travel? how about international travel?

    its easy for people to get focused on themselves.

    i used to live in san diego, which i feel is a city that is more sensitive to international happenings, but it is in fact a much different city (mumbai is the top story in their paper).

    http://www.signonsandiego.com/uniontrib/20081128/

    i don’t think minnesotans travel much.

  • Paul

    Americans are notorious for their international ignorance. I don’t know if Americans really don’t care what goes on in the world or if they just don’t get the information. I know Mondale once bragged about having been the US Ambassador to Japan, and never learned a single word of Japanese. One would have thought after being caught so completely flat footed on Sept 11, 2001, that Americans would have wanted to pay a little more attention to international affairs. For all we know the guys who just attacked Mumbia are the next ones to attack New York. But hey, Minnetonka’s football team just made history. By he way, almost nothing that happens in sports ever rises above the level of trivia, it’s not history.

  • Elizabeth T.

    as editor, I would definitely include the photos you have linked in from Boston, while making it top story. While listening on MPR doesn’t provide this visual stimulus, it is horrifying in a way that words and sounds aren’t. While many were good photos, with clear content and pathos … the ones which were “click here” filtered for ‘sensitive’ content … those drove home the word terrorism.

    It isn’t just ‘how important is the news’, but ‘how do we want to display the news’. One must avoid sensationalism. But those photos of people lying dead amongst blood and strewn personal belongings ought to grab people’s attention in a way that the words “more people killed in terrorist attacks in Mumbai” just doesn’t.

    As for the ‘local connection’: how many immigrants & students & tourists are there in the state from India? I was in Munich, Germany on August 1, 2007 desperately trying to figure out which bridge had collapsed, because no one on their news feed mentioned it. It might not have been of ‘local’ interest to Bavarians, but the three Minnesotans in front of the airport TV sure cared.

    As a comparison: CNN-Germany gave stupendous coverage to the 35W bridge collapse; it was the major story running. The German radio news even mentioned it in Munich within a few hours of it happening. That’s a lot of coverage for something with no ‘local interest’, and it pales in comparison to terrorism in Mumbai.

    People forget that terrorism is not a matter of scale. 200 people dead is not “less terrorism” than 2,000. The news editors need to remember this, too.