Carroll: The scoop on small-town news
October 22, 2013
Reader feedback comes in all forms, but a consistent theme concerns our story placement or news judgment.
"Must have been a slow news day."
"Why is that on the front page?"
"Don't you guys have anything better to write about?"
"That's not a story."
Welcome to the wide world of small-town newspapering. And in a town with two daily newspapers and a year-round population of fewer than 7,000 residents, Aspen readers are routinely pounded over the head with the same news, big and small, every day.
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A good example was last week, when both newspapers covered a scuffle between a local photographer and another man. Our version of the story, with the headline "Two charged after parking-lot fight at Aspen Business Center," ran on page A3 on Friday. That same day, I bumped into a law-enforcement agency employee who said that type of news wouldn't even be a blurb in a larger metro newspaper.
He was right, and we agreed that Aspen is actually fortunate to have this type of small-time news filling its local pages rather than articles about shootings, riots and epic catastrophes.
Our online readers also gravitated toward that story more than anything else in that Friday's edition. That little scuffle piece generated nearly six times more Web hits than our second-most-read story of the day, seven times more than our Krabloonik follow-up and more than five times more hits than the story about the Maroon Bells reopening after the federal government reopened.
Crime stories are consistently the best-read stories in The Aspen Times, but that doesn't mean we need to plaster them on page A1 every day. When deciding where stories are run, we try to determine which stories have the most impact on our readers. A well-told story also can be a candidate for A1, and yes, a salacious court article also can wind up on the front page.
Story placement certainly is not an exact science. There are times when reporters will question my news judgment. Often a writer will pitch a story for the front page; in other instances, they'll beg that it go inside. But story placement often boils down to what other news we have that day.
While some readers might think we blow up stories just to sell newspapers — I'll never grasp that cliched logic since our papers are free — there's also the other side of the coin.
As a community newspaper, we don't just shine the light on local thugs, community leaders, politicians, rabble-rousers and powder days.
We have social pages in the Saturday edition of The Aspen Times as well as The Aspen Times Weekly. There's Aspen Misc., our weekly community page that runs Sundays on page A3.
Our local sports section draws attention to many athletes, who, like our local troublemakers, might not get an inkling of the ink they currently receive if they lived in a larger market.
Regular readers of the Times also might notice that we have launched a few standing features that run on a weekly basis.
Our "Bringing It Home" series runs Saturday and takes a look at either a state, national or global issue and its impacts that are felt locally.
"Their Generation," which profiles longtime locals and their stories, runs every other Thursday. "On the Job," which also runs alternate Thursdays, gives an inside look into the jobs of locals and what they do to make ends meet.
If we're doing our job the right way, readers get a daily dose of the good, bad and ugly in their town. Some stories are uplifting; others are downright upsetting.
And that's the case not just in Aspen but in any size market.
Rick Carroll is editor of The Aspen Times. He takes comments, complaints, questions and news tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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