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From the editor: When selecting news content, we prioritize local

From the editor: When selecting news content, we prioritize local

February 18th, 2018 by Gary Castor in Opinion
Gary Castor, News Tribune managing editor

The News Tribune has become so liberal, and I wish you would do something about it.

The News Tribune is so conservative, and I wish you would present the other side of these issues.

Some days, I hear those comments within minutes of each other.

The conversation inevitably leads to whether the reader is referring to the opinion pages — where columnists, cartoonists and letter writers express pointed political views — or news pages, which account for the remaining 90 percent of the paper.

Within the past year or so, comments have become directed at national and international stories on our news pages. They are quick to point out that the reporting on local issues is solid, accurate and fair. But when it comes to stories about President Donald Trump in particular, the complaints are quick to come.

With few exceptions, all of those national and international stories are produced by the Associated Press. You can tell the author by the byline on top of every story.

The News Tribune pays a fee to be a member of the Associated Press, which allows us to use stories and photographs they produce from around the world, as well as share and receive stories and photographs from fellow AP media outlets.

You might have family and friends from around the country who have seen News Tribune stories and photographs in their hometown papers. That's all part of the sharing agreement.

AP also has bureaus staffed with reporters and photographers throughout the United States and across the world. In Missouri, AP has staff members in St. Louis, Kansas City and Jefferson City.

Each day, the News Tribune receives a list of stories AP plans to file from its national desk, its state desk, its sports desk, etc. Our local editors review those lists and determine which stories will appear in the next day's edition.

Rarely are all of the AP stories used, and rarely are they used in their entirety.

When the last presidential campaign was wrapping up, we noticed the descriptions in some AP stories had turned harsher and more dramatic. Specifically, we noticed adjectives and adverbs that seemed to inject opinions of some reporters into stories.

Here's an example.

In December, AP reported President Trump signed the tax passage approved by Congress. Here are the top five paragraphs of the story as submitted:

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump cheered a massive overhaul of U.S. tax laws Wednesday, saying "we broke every record."

Flanked by Republican lawmakers, the president took a bow outside the White House shortly after the House finished its last-minute re-vote to pass the $1.5 trillion bill that provides generous tax cuts for corporations and the wealthiest Americans while providing smaller cuts for middle- and low-income families.

Democrats call the legislation a boon to the rich that leaves middle-class and working Americans behind.

Trump said the effort had "been an amazing experience" and claimed it resulted in "the largest tax cut in the history of our country."

Actually, Trump's cuts are nowhere near the largest in U.S. history.

Nowhere in the story does the reporter attribute that last sentence nor provide factual evidence that the statement is true. Instead, it reads more like an opinion or conclusion the reporter has reached.

When these issues first were raised a year or so ago, we complained to AP and then made a concerted decision to remove those adjectives and opinions that seemed to add no value to the story.

I've had folks suggest we simply drop AP stories from the paper. That approach troubles me on a couple of fronts.

First, AP is a good organization that provides media outlets an opportunity to inform our communities about subjects that might be far away from us geographically but that have an effect on Jefferson City residents. AP provides us the opportunity to share with you on a timely basis such stories as the recent Florida school shooting, the Olympics and the latest happenings in Washington.

The trick is that the News Tribune has to keep the purpose of AP stories in the proper context. First and foremost, we are a Jefferson City/Mid-Missouri news source. More than 25 journalists devote their lives daily to gathering local stories and photographs of you and your neighbors and the issues that affect you.

When we plan the next day's edition, the first question is not "What does AP have for us today?" Our first question is "What is happening in Jefferson City today?"

Local stories almost always take precedence over any national or international subject. Any AP stories from the state, nation or world are prioritized as to their importance based on this question: "How will the information affect our community?" The AP stories are assigned to pages based on their importance and relevance to our audience and based on available space after local stories are prioritized.

The biggest role AP plays in our newsroom is that it allows us to inform readers about the world while keeping our journalists close to home so we can be more responsive to the needs of our community. This allows us to focus on reflecting the celebrations, tragedies, issues and challenges facing Jefferson City and Mid-Missouri.

And that's what distinguishes the News Tribune from any other information source.

Gary Castor is the managing editor of the News Tribune. Email him at gary@newstribune.com.