How local news is covering and localizing U.S.-Iran conflict » A 9-year-old detainee » Pence and Biden on air in dueling interviews

January 7, 2020
Category: Newsletters

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All news is local

Where are you getting your news about the latest events involving Iran and the United States following the death of Iranian military official Gen. Qassem Soleimani?

Many watch the network evening news. Cable news networks are all over it. And there are the traditional outlets that cover national and international events, such as The New York Times, The Washington Post and the Associated Press.

But many folks get their news the way they’ve always gotten their news — from their local newspapers. So how do local papers provide comprehensive coverage when they don’t have their own staff reporters covering the story?

Most newspapers use wire services. In other words, they take stories from the Times, Post, AP and so forth. Occasionally, they combine information from two or more of those outlets for one story. But it’s not as simple as cutting and pasting a wire story.

“The goal, always, is to try to capture the news of the day as fully and fairly as possible, from the headline to the last line,” Dallas Morning News editor Mike Wilson told me.

Easier said than done. Local papers typically don’t have direct contact with the writers of the wire stories to ask questions. The U.S.-Iran story is a complicated one — it’s certainly polarizing within our country. The headlines in the Dallas Morning News — “U.S. strike kills Iranian general”; “U.S. defends fatal attack”; “Anger surges in Iraq”; “Blowback from killing deepens” — and the stories along with them have been straightforward.

Many papers are constantly working with their copy editors, making sure everyone is careful about tone and commentary, whether it’s intentional or unintentional.

“It seems like every story these days has the potential to be political and polarizing,” said Ellen Clarke, deputy editor of print for the Poynter-owned Tampa Bay Times. “I ask our copy editors to be especially on alert for biased language in all wire politics stories, as that’s been the area of concern from all services.”

Susan Ellerbach, executive editor of the Tulsa World, told me, “Since our readership is pretty conservative in Oklahoma, this is something we visit with editors about pretty regularly. Our readers want the facts of the story, with as little commentary about the political side of it as possible. They are interested in what happened and what the possible ramifications might be, particularly how the actions might affect the safety of Americans.”

RELATED STORY: Journalists involved in U.S.-Iran coverage should provide context, explain decisions and make case-by-case calls

Perhaps readers are going directly to the websites of the New York Times and Washington Post and others, but Wilson, Clarke and Ellerbach all told me that U.S.-Iran stories do not generate tons of traffic on their websites. Ellerbach said readership online for such stories was “not good.”

“That does not affect how we play them in print, however,” she said. “Our readership online and in print is very, very different. Readers of the print edition still want headlines on what is happening that affects our country. Online readers for that, I believe, go to more nationally oriented sites.”

Clarke agrees. So does Wilson, although he said it still is important to post stories online to “let the audience know we are on top of the news.”

The Dallas Morning News, Tampa Bay Times, Tulsa World and other local papers can localize international stories— and that, generally, is of great interest to their readers.

“As the story continues to develop, we’ll be writing about the local Iranian community, continuing to take the pulse of elected officials from Texas and looking for opportunities for relevant opinion journalism,” Wilson said. “If any of the thousands of service people stationed in Texas are deployed to an Iran war, that will obviously be a huge story.”

The Tampa Bay Times’ political editor Steve Contorno got reaction from Florida politicians and that has been the most viewed story about Iran on the Times’ website since last Thursday, Carolyn Fox — Times deputy editor, digital and partnerships — told me. Meanwhile, the Tulsa World has covered local protests, as well as local religious and military families impacted by the news.

“It helps readers stay connected and, ultimately, that’s our job,” Ellerbach said.

It’s also the job for papers to continue producing newsworthy local journalism that has nothing to do with the latest developments involving Iran.

“Every day is a balance of interesting and important,” Clarke said. “The Soleimani aftermath is clearly very important. You’re going to find it as the centerpiece on 1A (today) because of that fact. You’re also going to find a column about the Florida welcome centers no longer offering free orange juice, because that’s pretty darn interesting.”

RELATED STORY: How to use your phone to spot fake images surrounding the U.S.-Iran conflict

‘Our American dream is over’


PBS’s “Frontline” investigates how El Paso became President Donald Trump’s immigration testing ground. This image was shot at the El Paso/Mexico border. (Photo by Rachel Anderson/Frontline)

The guards wore green uniforms and they had guns in their holsters. That’s what 9-year-old Dariana remembers from her time at the Border Patrol facility in Clint, Texas, after she was separated from her father when they crossed the border from Mexico into the United States.

She also remembers showering only every other day. She slept on cement floors next to other kids in clothes covered in mucus and vomit.

“They didn’t let us go out much,” she told PBS’s “Frontline.” “Maybe we’d go out about 15 minutes a day. And the rest of the time we were locked up.”

In a new “Frontline” documentary, “Targeting El Paso,” Dariana becomes the first child held inside this notorious Border Patrol station to speak to the media about conditions there. The show is scheduled to air tonight on most PBS stations.

After crossing the border, Dariana was placed in the Border Patrol facility when her father was arrested and charged with illegal reentry. Dariana was held there for 11 days before being transferred to a facility in New York City, where she said conditions were much better. After three months there, she was sent back to be with her family in Honduras.

Her father told “Frontline,” “Our American dream is over. But at least we have her back. That’s the important thing.”

Gannett CFO departing

For this item, I turn it over to Poynter media business analyst Rick Edmonds.

New Gannett (formed as GateHouse acquired old Gannett but retained the company’s name) let its chief financial officer go Monday. Alison Engel, the third ranking corporate officer, will be leaving the company at the end of the first quarter. She was internally named to the post, along with operating CEO Paul Bascobert, both from Gannett, before the deal was announced Aug. 5 — but there was no guarantee of her tenure. The merged company is expected to make extensive layoffs on both the business and news sides by mid-February.

Dueling vice president interviews

Just ahead of the Iowa Caucuses, NBC News’ Lester Holt will interview Democratic presidential hopeful and former Vice President Joe Biden. The interview is scheduled to air tonight during the “NBC Nightly News,” which begins at 6:30 p.m. Eastern.

Meanwhile, at the same time, “CBS Evening News” will air anchor Norah O’Donnell’s interview with Vice President Mike Pence.

Sports Illustrated looks to unionize

Editorial employees of Sports Illustrated announced Monday that more than 90% of the staff has formed a union, and they are demanding recognition from their new owner, TheMaven. The new bargaining unit includes about 80 writers, editors, producers and other editorial staff. Just three months ago, TheMaven laid off more than 40 staffers after it acquired Sports Illustrated from Meredith. The union was formed to aid job security, severance and layoff protections, pay equity, workplace safety, diversity in hiring and advancement, and a voice in editorial strategy, reports said.

That last item is of particular interest as there have been rumors as to the editorial direction the magazine has and will take with a new owner.

Senior writer Jenny Vrentas said in a statement, “As journalists, we hold the teams and athletes we cover accountable. It is our responsibility to do the same in our own workplace. We are unionizing to ensure that Sports Illustrated is a safe, inclusive place to work, where all employees are treated equally and can continue to perform our jobs at a high level.”

Hot type


“Schitt’s Creek” stars Eugene Levy, left, and Catherine O’Hara. (Photo by Willy Sanjuan/Invision/AP)

Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at tjones@poynter.org.

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