September 18, 2010

Richard L. Connor: Newspaper apologizes to those offended

Note from Richard L. Connor

Sept 19, 2010:

Our coverage of the conclusion of the local Ramadan observance was excellent and we are proud of it. We did not adequately cover 9/11 on the 9/11 anniversary, which also should have been front-page news, in my opinion. Please see this week's column for additional commentary on this topic.

http://www.pressherald.com/news/remembering-e_b_-whites-sage-advice_2010-09-19.html


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 We made a news decision on Friday that offended many readers and we sincerely apologize for it.

Many saw Saturday's front-page story and photo regarding the local observance of the end of Ramadan as offensive, particularly on the day, Sept. 11, when our nation and the world were paying tribute to those who died in the 9/11 terrorist attacks nine years ago.

We have acknowledged that we erred by at least not offering balance to the story and its prominent position on the front page.

What you are reading today was the planned coverage of the 9/11 events. We believed that the day after the anniversary would be the appropriate occasion to provide extensive news coverage of the events and observances conducted locally and elsewhere.

In hindsight, it is clear that we should have handled this differently and with greater sensitivity toward the painful memories stirred by the anniversary of 9/11.

Last week, I welcomed a former colleague back into the news business. He retired at a young age after successful stints as a reporter, editor and then publisher of one of the country's largest newspapers.

I told him he was about to witness a new world in media, a world where 24/7 is not a cliche but a way of life for us. We literally work around the clock in order to contend with the speed of communication.

On Saturday morning, he witnessed what I was talking about.

Readers began writing to me and to our paper and website en masse, criticizing our decision on coverage and story play of the local observance of the end of Ramadan by local Muslims.

We began answering them immediately and directly by e-mail and we posted responses on Facebook, Twitter and on our website. A good eight hours into the day, our editors were still working from home to keep up with a necessary response to our customers. Some managers came to the office on what was supposed to be a day off.

I expect no accolades for what I see as our prompt and courteous responses. Working fast, with immediacy and with concern for fairness, is just part of our reality these days.

Here is one of the responses I sent, which I believe covers a lot of ground:

"We are sorry you are offended by today's front page photo and story and certainly understand your point of view. Many feel the same way. We do not offer the stock excuses you cite. We should have balanced this story with one that showed our sensitivity to today's historic importance. You will see tomorrow that our planned coverage of today's 9/11 events is extensive, far more so than the coverage of this event on Friday. We apologize for what may appear to be our insensitivity to the historic significance of this day. Tomorrow's newspaper will feature extensive coverage of the commemoration of today's events.

"Our editors believed that 3,000 persons marking the passage of a religious observance and congregating in Portland to do so was news. I believe that decision was correct but I also believe we should have handled it in a more sensitive way."

Twice each day, a group of highly experienced editors convenes to make news decisions on story coverage and story play. I do not attend those meetings but I take responsibility for their decisions. I trust the editors who make the decisions because I know how much they care about our communities and about being fair. They try hard and most days they succeed.

As experienced and as concerned as they might be, however, they are also human. They make mistakes. They also are free to voice opinions, and some of them may disagree with my stance on this issue. That's OK. We believe in free-flowing dialogue and openness.

We have had that same dialogue and openness with our readers over the past 24 hours. Virtually all those we have heard from have been outraged over our decision on news play in Saturday's paper. Most have also been courteous and polite.

Again, if you were offended, I apologize.

To those of you who took the time to write or tweet, or go to Facebook, thanks for letting us know your opinions and how much you care.

Richard L.Connor

Editor and Publisher

 

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