September 14, 2004

Editors at the Turnstile

Here's a great line from Susan Q. Stranahan in a Campaign Desk piece looking at how various Knight Ridder newspapers used a Washington Bureau story examing the Bush-Kerry health plans:

"... editors are mortal too; some of them are possessed of wisdom and judgment and some couldn't direct a two-car funeral." (Emphasis added.)

Public criticism of journalists is often directed at reporters or at a newspaper's top editor. In between -- manning, as Campaign Desk puts it, "a large turnstile," are layers of editors who sort wire copy and trim it to fit the daily newshole. On all but the largest papers, those with their own national reporters, these editors determine the scope and size of campaign coverage.

When it comes to news judgment, departure from the norm is rare among mid-level editors, who must appear knowledgeable about a vast array of national and international stories, read the minds of their bosses about the importance of these stories and suffer the inevitable second guessing when a perceive competitor has a different angle on an issue. This is a formula for safe decision-making, choosing a tried-and-true, he-said-she-said story over something more analytic.

In the post below, Mike Jenner, editor of the Bakersfield paper, acknowledges "that some of the smartest editors on our staff believe" it is "risky" for him to demand less coverage of the Bush-Kerry Vietnam redux and more coverage of issues.

Change begins from the edges, but it doesn't take hold until the middle shifts.

Posted by Tim Porter at September 14, 2004 03:19 PM