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Does Your Paper Own Inventory in Your Newsmakers?

By Jim Pumarlo
At your next newsroom meeting, ask reporters to identify the community newsmakers. Alternatively, bring a stack of newspapers from the last couple of months and circle the newsmakers receiving attention in words and photos.
The likely candidates will be present, such as the mayor and city council president; the superintendent and school board chair; the county’s chief administrator and the county board chair; local legislators; the heads of key local commissions and task forces.
However, while most newsrooms do a commendable job of writing for the source, they’re shortchanging their readers – their customers – if they do not expand their definition of and explore the range of newsmakers.
Public officials speak, and their statements are recorded. Their comments should be given proper notice. However, does your paper spend time to identify the players at the core of community conversations?
The challenging, new media landscape demands that editors and reporters thoroughly examine their coverage and ask the question: Are we relevant to our readers? Are your news columns dominated by the same set of newsmakers, or does your paper dig beneath the surface to identify the full cast of characters? Are you writing stories for the individuals at the top, or tail end, of the news pyramid without giving proper attention to everyone else in the pyramid whose actions collectively represent the full dynamics of a story?
This exercise of scrutinizing coverage goes beyond examining the meetings of local governing bodies. Editors and reporters should regularly brainstorm all aspects of everyday coverage. It can be as easy as tracking down and inserting other voices beyond what is forwarded in a press release or presented at an event.
Reporters are certain to rattle off the usual lineup of individuals to solicit perspectives the next time your staff is brainstorming coverage for a story of community significance. Some may be appropriate and, indeed, mandatory to contact. Do not adjourn your session until you’ve come up with at least a handful of individuals who rarely, if ever, are mentioned in your newspaper. Make it a priority to seek their opinions.
Filling your bucket with more newsmakers is all about going beyond the story that is served on the platter. Make no mistake, digging beneath the surface takes legwork – and produces long-term benefits. The enriched coverage is more interesting, and you will likely pick up some new readers.

Jim Pumarlo writes, speaks and provides training on Community Newsroom Success Strategies. His newest book is “Journalism Primer: A Guide to Community News Coverage for Beginning and Veteran Journalists.” Contact Pumarlo with comments and questions at www.pumarlo.com or jim@pumarlo.com.
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