FROM THE EDITOR’S DESK: What kind of stories do you REALLY want?
In the course of my random dealings with folks in our community, I hear my fair share of criticisms of the newspaper and how someone might be able to “do it just a little bit better.”
I’m long since numb to the fact that about half the people out there hate me and the other half can at least stand me. I think that means we are doing something right. I have the liberals calling me a no-good conservative and the Republicans are calling me a bleeding-heart liberal.
One very common complaint that I hear when I’m out and about around the community is this one: “The newspaper never runs any good news. Just run that trash. It would be nice to see some good news in the paper for a change.”
I think it makes people feel good to say things like that out loud – fulfills them with a sense of morality that they have expressed the need to see the “good news” of our community. They have done their part now.
But those statements are nothing more than talk. And I can prove it. Our readers don’t want good news. I know all of your dirty secrets. And the numbers, my friends, don’t lie.
There is no way I can place metrics on each individual story in our print edition and tell which ones are the most read, which ones keep attention spans longer and which ones turn people off. But, I can do all of those things through our online metrics.
Our website, which draws in a few thousand of you every single day (more on some days than others), has handy little tools at my disposal. I know which stories are the most read. I know which stories are the least read. I know the average length of time you spend looking at the page the story is on. I can even see if you are coming to us through Facebook links, direct search, links on Google or other avenues available.
My conclusion – you don’t want “good news.” Good news, while available, is nowhere near the top 25 in the metric list.
So far this year (from Jan. 1 through May 9) we have filed about 240 stories on our website for your reading pleasure. I took a glance at the top 25 most read stories. Want to hear the shocker? Most all of them could be classified as “bad news.” Of course that can be a little arbitrary depending on your personal definition of “bad news.”
The top story of the year so far – The Manchester Police Department serving 81 indictments in a large drug bust. It isn’t even close. The next story that has garnered the most attention from the readers – Man killed in collision with Coffee County bus. And the next one – Publisher of local paper arrested for aggravated domestic assault. And there is more with number four – Police release name of boy who drowned at Rutledge Falls. And rounding out the top five – Area police, FBI bust Hillsboro man for meth; dispatcher arrested.
It doesn’t get any better after that: Man arrested for allegedly raping 15-year-old girl; Authorities confirm name of man killed in Monday crash; Tennessee Highway Patrol releases details of deadly crash; Coffee County Bank robbed; NWS confirms tornado in Coffee County.
It goes on and on.
You have to scroll all the way down to the 21st spot on that list to find a good, heart-warming, make-you-feel-good story about organ donors and Jeff Cox’s long road of four kidney transplants.
I’m not saying that the “bad news” doesn’t have its place in the newspaper, because it most certainly does. Unfortunately, bad things happen and it is our responsibility to report that news, whether it cast a good image or a bad image on our town or county. Unfortunately, bad things will happen. And we will be there to report them. And, believe it or not, we do not like it.
But, contrary to popular belief, we report good news as well. Plenty of “good news.” Over that same time frame (Jan. 1 through May 9) there have been plenty of stories available for reading similar to the story on Jeff Cox. We have reported on the Relay for Life. Did you know a Korean War veteran received his high school diploma 60 years after quitting school to fight for our country? You probably didn’t, because even though it garnered plenty of reads, it is dwarfed by the next closest “bad news” story.
Local golf prodigy Ashley Gilliam actually got to compete in a golf contest at Augusta National in Georgia and finished third. Aspen Technology is bringing 160 jobs to Manchester. A Westwood science teacher is one of 50 nationwide selected to attend a fellowship in Washington DC. The Coffee County Drug Court has expanded to include recovery for youth who have gotten off the academic rails. The local FBLA presented a $4,500 check to the Tennessee Breast Cancer Coalition. The local American Legion helped obtain a specially-made tricycle for a special-needs girl in our community.
Those stories are there. And we report them with the same effort and diligence as the “bad news.” Good things do happen in our community and we are vigorously working to tell those stories.
You just don’t want to read them. The numbers don’t lie.
-Josh Peterson is the editor of the Manchester Times. He is a Tennessee Press Association award-winning writer and photographer. His column, “From the editor’s desk” won TPA first-place honors for best personal humor column. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone at 931-728-7577 ext. 105. Click here to follow him on Twitter @joshpeterson29