Scott Stanford: Horrific story qualifies as news

Different readers have different expectations of newspaper

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Reader Robert Skorkowsky took us to task Wednesday for running a story about an Oklahoma man accused of killing a 10-year-old girl.

What made the story, which appeared on Page 14 of Monday's Steamboat Today, particularly heinous is that police suspect the man had plans to eat parts of the body.

In case you missed Skorkow--sky's letter to the editor, it read, in part:

"I was disappointed that the Steamboat Pilot & Today chose to run a story on the Nation page about a 10-year-old girl's murder by a psycho. What is the reader supposed to do with that information other than feel saddened and disgusted? I don't want to know about it. Not because I want to live in ignorance, but because it is not useful information, and it might just be what these psychos want."

I don't think Skorkowsky is alone in his response. It is hard to imagine how anyone can put such information to use. Although the story's value may be debatable, the fact that it qualifies as news is not.

Different readers define news differently. An example: My wife took interest in the Tuesday birth of the "Tomkitten" -- the daughter of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes. I could not care less.

Conversely, I was fascinated by news of the basketball game between the Grizzlies and the Clippers, given its playoff implications. My wife -- and so many others, I'm sure -- could not care less about the NBA, particularly a regular-season game between the Clippers and Grizzlies.

Few people read the newspaper cover to cover, and the truth is that it's not designed that way. Instead, we put as wide a variety of news and information in each edition as possible. If you want to read comics, we've got them. Major League Baseball standings? In there. Local news stories? Got it. Horoscope? Check. Need a job? Check our classifieds. Of course, there is much more.

My goal is to make sure that each edition has at least one item that makes picking up our newspaper worth the reader's time and effort. Everything beyond that one item is gravy.

For some people, that one item is updated news about the Oklahoma man accused of killing the 10-year-old girl.

Of course, the cannibalism aspect is the only reason this story got attention outside of Oklahoma. It is, unquestionably, a horrific story. For many, the sheer horror is what drives interest in the story. It's what makes it news.

In my estimation, our handling of such a story is equally as important as deciding to run it. In this case, the article appeared as a secondary story on the last news page.

We make news judgments every day. It is not a perfect science, and I will be the first to acknowledge that we sometimes err. But in this instance, I think we handled this story appropriately. We did not sensationalize it. We did not overplay its significance.

What we did was deliver the news.

From the Editor appears Thursdays in the Steamboat Today. Send questions to Scott Stanford at sstanford@steamboat pilot.com or call him at 871-4221.

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