Keep state out of schools
Published 7:57 am Wednesday, February 6, 2002
By By Brian Blackley, Publisher
Do people want what they say they want?
I am always fascinated by people's reading habits because their "habits," when surveyed, often don't match reality.
Take for instance the idea quoted to me often about the role of a community newspaper and the importance of reporting lots of human-interest stories about the people we know in the community. People love this stuff, to hear them tell it, because these stories fill them with joy and exuberance about the strength of the human spirit and the depth of human compassion.
I, for one, love these stories, too. At least those that are well-written and that are about people I know, or situations and conditions about which I am either concerned about or to which I can strongly relate.
But there are few of them, in my estimation, that meet the above criteria. Good stories are easy to find, good people are easy to discover and good ideas for stories are abundant.
But seldom n not never, but seldom n do these stories become what I want them to be, even when I write them. It seems, too, that the majority of people agree with me on this. While we all love human-interest features, we may find fewer than three interesting to us personally when looking at a batch of 10 of them.
Of course for some of us, four or five may catch our eyes, while others may not see anything at all worth reading because their interest and curiosity is not sparked by the stories in question.
None of us, however, enjoy reading the stories about the bad things happening around us. We are not interested in reading about death, arrests, tragedy, crime, punishment, justice or scandal. These things are negative and perpetuate negative images, ideas and feelings within us. They leave us angry, frustrated, scared, concerned, alarmed or simply disturbed.
It's true that none of us seek to feel any of those emotions.
Or at least that's what we say.
Myth or reality?
I don't know for sure, but I do know what the evidence suggests. Those days when newspapers aren't to be found in the newsracks, we look to the front page to see what could have prompted people to drop their quarters into one of our racks or to swing by a vendor and leave a little poorer for money and a little richer for knowledge.
Almost without exception there's something on the front about those things we all hate — death, arrests, tragedy, crime, punishment, justice or scandal, or some combination thereof.
I remember what Kevin Bacon, the movie star, recently said on a program I saw about America's scandal sheets. It was something to the effect of how amazing it is that those sheets are the top-selling publications in the country considering nobody reads that (expletive deleted).
But he's right. We all know what we like to read, but after spending more than 10 years watching newspaper sales, I can say with certainty that there is a lot of ambiguity to what we say we read when compared with what we choose to buy. Ever wonder why Stephen King sells so many books?
And I also contend that people need to know when crime hits their neighborhood so they can take the appropriate precautions. They need to know when someone is the unfortunate victim of a fatality so that maybe, just maybe, they'll drive a little slower, watch a little more carefully and focus a little harder when they take the wheel. They need to know when people in the community are arrested and convicted so they know a little more about who they should choose as their friends.
Furthermore, newspaper sales indicate that they want to know these things and they want to know them badly, despite what they say.
So what does this mean to you, you may ask?
It means that we will continue to do both things n that which you say you want and that which you say you don't want but which prompts you to take interest in your newspaper and community.
Our Sunday newspaper has a recent addition on its back page n a full page of color with stories about your community and some of the many wonderful things that are happening around and about. These stories are meant to give people a snapshot into the wonderful things that are happening here each and every day and they are meant to give you a nice break from the humdrum existence of everyday life. Some of you will read them with great interest; others may not. But we want you get what you want n warm stories about your town.
And we'll, as always, continue to run an appropriate mix of news and features on our front page. Our role is to represent the events of the community in as much entirety as we can and there is much good happening around us that needs our attention. I know you'll all be relieved to know that since this is what you like to read.
So don't worry. Despite what our data tells us about your reading habits, we're still listening and we'll still have plenty of warm stories to offset that other stuff that we all hate to read.