Sunday, June 26, 2022
June 26, 2022

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From the Newsroom: Covering the war with wire

By , Columbian Editor
Published:

In my last column I used the word “local” 12 times when trying to describe what The Columbian is all about.

Then the war in Ukraine broke out, and we’ve been committed to putting the story on the front page every single day. Many days, it’s been the lead story and/or accompanied by the lead photo.

Has there been a change of heart? Why are we spending so much space on a war that you can read about in depth on other news platforms or watch on television?

It comes down to what customers expect from general interest newspapers. Although local news remains paramount, subscribers expect to see a general report of the news of the day, along with sports, comics, puzzles and weather.

We don’t have reporters and photographers in Europe, of course. But through our wire services we can present enough stories and photos to keep Columbian readers reasonably informed. On Thursday, for example, The Associated Press offered six stories related to the war in its midday digest, and other news services were covering it too.

Earlier this month, a study by the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University caught my eye.

Using new analytical tools, it found that using wire service news and syndicated content helped newspapers build and maintain readership.

That’s counter to the conventional wisdom that local newspapers subscribers don’t want wire service news because they can find it elsewhere.

“Syndicated content is important to grow engagement,” said Edward Malthouse, research director at Northwestern’s Medill Spiegel Research Center and Erastus Otis Haven Professor of Integrated Marketing Communications. “Any story’s a good story if you can get me to read it.”

Some newspapers have dropped their Associated Press and other wire service subscriptions in order to cut costs. I don’t know what they are doing to cover the war; I would guess that some of their readers are unhappy about the lack of coverage.

Disturbing photos

One question that is bound to arise whenever a war breaks out is “What photos are too gruesome for the front page?” We have already had that conversation about Ukraine.

Like most editors, I am reluctant to show horrific images, particularly if they show harm to children. So the Russian bombing of a maternity hospital was a moment for a crucial conversation. Were the photos too grim, I asked at the afternoon news meeting.

Colleen Keller, our assistant news editor who chooses the wire stories, gave what I thought was a compelling answer: “I think it’s valuable to show the real cost of this war.”

I agreed, and we used the photos. I am afraid that we will have more conversations like this in the coming days. If you see these grim photos in our paper or on our website, you can bet we discussed the news value before we printed them.

Keeping an eye on traffic

If you were headed to Portland, or even toward the river on Monday morning, you likely got caught in a big traffic jam. A wreck on the Oregon side of Interstate 5 backed up traffic to Hazel Dell, and also clogged Interstate 205 more than usual. I took the back way to work, but I am sure many motorists were frustrated.

One of the best ways to “know before you go” is to check out our traffic page, www.columbian.com/traffic. You’ll find a real-time traffic map, traffic alerts, traffic Tweets (if you’re not on Twitter, this is very helpful) and traffic cams. We recently added the county’s cameras to our map, so you can see traffic from dozens of locations along freeways, state highways and major county roads such as Northeast 78th Street. Now if our page could only do something about the price of gas.

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