Wind Storm

A man begins clearing a downed tree from Southeast Fifth Street in Hermiston on Saturday, May 30, 2020. The storm was part of a particularly newsworthy week in Hermiston that caused some stories that had been planned for the paper to be cut.

When someone submits an idea for a story to us, they often preface it with, “I’m not sure if this is newsworthy, but ...”

I wish I could give everyone a checklist to help them know on their own what coverage a story will merit, but the somewhat chaotic nature of news means there are no easy answers. People often mean “Must be a slow news day” as an insult, but there is a lot of truth behind the statement. Something that might be front page one day may be left out of the paper altogether on a different day.

Part of our job is to put out a newspaper full of words and pictures by every deadline, no matter how much is actually going on in our coverage area. The number of pages in each edition is determined not by the amount of news reporters have written, but by how much advertising has been sold to cover the costs of the printing of those pages (so if you enjoy a story in the print edition, I would encourage you to thank a business that paid for advertising on that page).

Newsworthiness is also in the eye of the beholder, to some extent. What sounds like a snooze-fest of a brief to one reporter can sound like a fun feature story to another.

What that means for people hoping to get a story in the newspaper is that it’s really best to just ask if we would be interested, or take the initiative to send a press release. If you do, one of four things will likely happen:

First, we may respond with an enthusiastic yes, working with you to set up interviews and photos for a full-length feature story.

Second, we may simply use the information you sent us to write up something short, possibly after asking a couple of follow-up questions.

Third, we may tell you that there are no reporters free at the time of the event, or we don’t have the resources right now for someone to spend time on it, but if you send us a photo and some information we would be happy to put it in somewhere.

Fourth, we may tell you that it is not a good fit for our paper. That could happen for a number of reasons, most commonly that it just wouldn’t be interesting or relevant to a majority of our readers. In other cases, it seems the story idea is more advertising than news, or we checked into the tip and found it was incorrect.

We also usually stay away from what I call “bad customer service” stories — a he said, she said incident where someone claims a local business or landlord didn’t give them a refund or otherwise treated them poorly. In those cases, we’d rather the case be handled by an organization with the relevant authority, such as small claims court, the Better Business Bureau or a state regulatory agency.

If you’ve stuck with me this far, here are a few more tips:

1) Some stories are interesting, and some stories are important. The best stories are both.

2) Give us the who, what, when, where, why and how, along with contact information of someone who will be responsive if we have a question.

3) If you call at the last minute requesting coverage, it is less likely a reporter will be available. Also keep in mind we print the week’s paper on Tuesdays at 7 p.m., and plan accordingly.

4) If you’re going to submit photos, make sure they are clear, high-resolution shots of something interesting to look at (no blurry photos of the backs of people’s heads copied from a Facebook page).

With all that in mind, I hope you will keep us in mind in the future. Just remember: We can’t cover it if we don’t know about it!

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