2004-08-20 / Columnists

From the Editor’s Desk

By Howard Schwach

The spate of letters to The Wave from local Republicans who did not like the way we covered their recent meeting at the Belle Harbor Yacht Club once again raises the question of who and what the paper covers.

There are really two questions that need to be answered to understand the coverage provided to events in The Wave. The first question is, of course, “Is this a Rockaway story?” Or, more succinctly, does the story have a Rockaway hook?

The joke in there somewhere is that the person involved in the story once flew over Rockaway while taking off from JFK Airport, and that makes it a Rockaway story. That, however, is only a joke. There has to be a real Rock-away hook for a story to be told in the pages of The Wave.

For example, in this week’s sports section we have a story about a young lady who will represent the United States in the Greece Olympics. She lives far from Rockaway and goes to school in another state. Her grandparents, however, live in Breezy Point. Does that make for a Rockaway connection? We contacted her grandparents and found that she spent summers in Breezy on a number of occasions.

That becomes a Rockaway hook and the story is in the paper.

The second question is, does the story have a valid news hook? Is the story of interest to the Rockaway community?

If the answers to those questions are in the affirmative, that is the event or the incident are Rockaway-related and of interest to our readers, then The Wave has an interest in doing the story – in not actually “covering it,” because there is a difference and therein lies the animosity of the Republicans.

The Wave has a full-time staff of two, a part-time Sports Editor and an editorial assistant. If that staff were to attend every political meeting, civic meeting, business meeting, fraternal meeting, artistic event and sports event in Rockaway each month, the staff would quickly be back on its heels and breathing hard.

There are many events that happen, therefore, that need the coverage to come from the members of that organization themselves, and many of those organizations cooperate with pictures and small stories about their activities. Those reports and pictures most often make the pages of The Wave.

There is a hierarchy to the events that the staff of The Wave does cover.

Actual news stories, of course, come first. Fires, shootings, drownings, motor vehicle accidents, floods and other events that are of interest to our readers come before other stories 99 percent of the time.

We find out about “negative” events such as those by listening intently to the police and fire radios as well as from telephone calls from readers who see something happening and want to find out just what is going on.

The Wave covers news stories such as those as often as we can, because, after all, that is what a newspaper is about. While we are not a daily paper, we often beat the dailies on local stories and they often play catch-up by calling our office for leads and information. That is as good as it gets for a local paper.

Then, there are events that draw hundreds of local residents, events such as the local festivals and runs such as the Rockaway Kite Festival and the Graybeards Family Run. We try and cover events such as those because they have a compelling community interest – and lots of kids. Pictures of local kids sell local papers such as The Wave and, after all, we are a business as well as a community service.

We cover community meetings when there is a hook for an important story.

For example, when Lew Simon hosted newly-appointed Region Five School Superintendent Kathleen Cashin, we covered that meeting, not for the meeting, but for what Cashin would say about Rockaway’s schools.

When the 100 Precinct Council hosted the CO to speak about problems on the beach, we covered that for the beach story, not for the meeting.

When the Chamber of Commerce hosted a meeting for locals to look at the proposals for the new Tribute Park, we covered that meeting not for the Chamber, but to take pictures of the proposed memorials and to speak with the artists who developed them.

We do not cover any political or community meetings that lack that news hook that is so important to us.

Nor do we cover any news story that lacks news value or that does not impact the community at large.

For example, one customer is treated badly by a local store. That is not a story. When that same store mistreats dozens of customers for racial or religious reasons that may be a story.

Likewise, when we get a phone tip on a story that seems to be exciting, but turns out upon investigation to be a “he said, she said” type of story that would ruin the reputation of one of the combatants, then we usually choose not to address that story.

The conventional wisdom says that the meant and potatoes of a local paper is local meetings. We believe that the meat and potatoes of The Wave is the hard news we provide, mixed liberally with features about local events and people.

We ask those organizations who hold meetings that they want noted in the pages of The Wave but have no specific news value, to send us a press release and a picture. We do not send out reporters or photographers to those meetings.

We know that the Republicans believe that their meeting had news value simply because it was held. We obviously do not agree. The offhand line that I used in Beachcomber that said that it was possible that more people came to see “Paulie Walnuts” than to back President Bush was meant as a joke. The Republicans obviously took it far more seriously than it was intended to be.

For the past 111 years, The Wave has been providing the news to Rockaway and Broad Channel.

Give us a news hook and we will move the world. Hold a general meeting, and we will probably stay home.

That is the way of the weekly journalism business, and, Republican gripes aside, I still think we do it better than most.

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