WENZEL: Darn those rulesNewspaper policies may offend, upset.
By: Korrie Wenzel, The Daily Republic
Another one of those letters arrived, this time from an Iowa woman.
She experienced car trouble while in Mitchell. Employees at one business or another were very kind to her, helped her find a place to stay, fixed the trouble, etc.
She sent a very kind note expressing how well she was treated in Mitchell and thanked the businesses that helped her.
One problem: We don’t run those kinds of letters. Never have, as far as I can remember.
And boy does that make some people really, really mad.
We don’t run them for free because we still are a business, and still have paid opportunities for people to publicly thank those who have been kind. While we have made changes to our obituary policy in recent years, our “thank you” policy really has never changed.
It costs about $7.15 an inch to run a thank-you note in The Daily Republic. We don’t allow personal thank-yous on the Opinion Page; likewise, we don’t allow letters that can be considered advertising on the Opinion Page.
So when a letter comes from out of state, specifically thanking people by name and telling readers about the great service they received at a local business, what are we to do?
Former Mayor Lou Sebert thinks we should publish those letters, since he considered them good for Mitchell and “good news” in general. We battled about that quite a bit, including earlier this year before he left office.
I don’t blame him for trying, since I suppose such letters can be good news for Mitchell and do highlight some interesting instances of service or giving.
But how can we allow a free “thank you” to run from an out-of-state visitor when we don’t allow them to run free for our everyday customers here in the Mitchell region?
How do we know the letter is not just a ploy for free advertising from an out-of-state friend of the business?
How do we tell people tactfully that great service is what local businesses should be providing every single day, and not just to nonresident guests who experience trouble while passing through the region?
And how do we print such things on the Opinion Page, when we include our policy at the bottom of that very page every single day?
Earlier this year, Sebert told us he sees some inconsistencies in our policy, such as when a reader commends The Daily Republic for some sort of coverage or what not. I know we have published letters from, say, officers of United Way, thanking the populace of Mitchell for their philanthropic efforts. We also allow nonprofits to use our “Much Obliged” column for free.
I don’t foresee any changes to how we’ve been doing things.
Here are a few other Daily Republic policies that tend to cause tension:
Aside from the group photos of letter winners in our special preview sections for sports, we don’t run team photos unless the team is a state champ, or a champion of a tournament of similar size, scope or prestige.
We do this so we are not overrun with photos, and also so we can be consistent with who gets in the newspaper. If we were to publish a reader-submitted fourth-place team photo, imagine the questions: Where are the other three teams? Why didn’t the paper publish the others?
We don’t publish photos of people handing over a check and shaking hands at the same time. It’s called a “check-passing,” and we haven’t published those pictures in more than a decade.
If our newsroom deems the event newsworthy, we still offer to send a photographer and publish an appropriate news photo, but we just won’t do “check-passing” pics. We will write a brief piece on the event or gift, even if we don’t take the picture.
Every now and again, we have a new employee who doesn’t understand this, and we have come very close to mistakenly breaking this rule. If it ever happens, it will be because of our own people misunderstanding the policy.
Also, businesses are welcome to put a check-passing photo in a paid ad.
And yes, we have made at least one exception, such as the time a family donated more than $200,000 to the local soccer complex.
We don’t like doing news stories on non-local people who simply are passing through town on some mission, fundraiser or personal quest.
Each summer, our newsroom is visited by various folks who are, for instance, riding a bike across country to raise awareness for something they consider important.
Truly, we can almost set our calendar by this steady parade of unannounced visitors and odd story requests.
Over the years, we finally began telling these folks “no.” We are impressed by anyone who decides to walk across the country toting a huge cross or whatever, but we cannot justify doing a story on someone from outside of our coverage area when so many stories are waiting to be told right here at home.
One recent exception was the piece about the fellow from Great Britain who was essentially swimming the Missouri River from Chamberlain to St. Louis.
We publish stories about all felonies, and we publish all magistrate court happenings.
And no, you can’t opt out of such things.
Most readers would be surprised to know how many people call and ask or outright insist that their brush with the law be kept out of the newspaper.
A newspaper should work hard to be consistent with its policies, and it always should be ready to explain why certain rules are in place. Policy mistakes do happen, but we try hard to avoid inconsistencies, even if our efforts do tend to upset folks every now and again.
As for the latest letter from Iowa, we’re glad out-of-state guests are treated well in Mitchell. But we can’t justify printing their thank-you notes for free when we won’t do the same for a subscriber down the street.