Why papers sometimes miss stories

Tim Bousquet, pugnacious news editor of the Halifax news and entertainment weekly, The Coast, responds to Contrarian’s chiding of local media for failing to cover issues surrounding The Old Mill’s closure.

Hardly a week goes by that someone isn’t asking me — usually angrily — “Why isn’t The Coast covering issue X???”

There are a variety of reasons. The Coast — which is basically me, plus whatever freelancers I can lure with a minuscule budget, and the occasional intern — isn’t covering an issue.

Sometimes the issues are too far afield, out of our distribution area, so aren’t a priority. Sometimes other media are covering the issue adequately, and it would be silly for The Coast to extend our limited resources to duplicate the effort. Sometimes the issue doesn’t fit our mandate — the unending stream of young people riding/biking/pogo-sticking across Canada to raise money for the disease of the week, for example. Sometimes, believe it or not, we (I) simply don’t have the expertise or background to adequately report on an issue.

And then, sometimes, we might be inclined to report on an issue, but simply don’t know about it.

Which brings me to the “why isn’t The Coast covering the Sobeys/Old mill” thing. See, I even live the neighbourhood, and vaguely (if distantly) was aware that the Old Mill was closing. I knew nothing of the history of the place, and knew nothing about Sobeys plans.

Things like closing neighbourhood stores in poor neighbourhoods do indeed interest me, and I’d love to get some Coast perspective on them… but I can’t write about them, if I don’t know about them. I guess it’s far easier for some unnamed guy to snipe from the sidelines about how stupid/lazy/hypocritical The Coast is, than it is to pick up the phone and say, “Hey Tim! There’s an issue you might be interested in, let me fill you in…” or better yet, seeing how he’s a journalist, you know, *pitching a story about it.*

Jeebus Christ on a stick, I have a lot of shit on my plate, and can’t be on everything. The Chronicle has a bazillion people in its newsroom and misses things. Anyway, even though it was brought to my attention in a less than collegial manner, rest assured that now that I know about the Sobeys closing, I’ve assigned a writer to the story. Too bad your learned correspondent wasn’t interested in writing the story himself, but so it goes.

Contrarian readers unfamiliar with The Coast should know that, by Bousquet standards, the passage above constitutes a fairly restrained response to the poke we gave The Coast and its brethren. Also, notably, Tim’s explanation mirrors the comments that began our post: internet-induced turmoil in the news-gathering business has made it harder to find good reporting and good writing on local issue. In the US, several major newspapers have notoriously been outsourcing local news coverage to writer/researchers in the Philippines, as reported by This American Life and the Poynter Institute. By comparison, Nova Scotia is a local news Nirvana.

Finally, as noted here yesterday, OpenFile Halifax’s Bethany Horne has done what seems to be a definitive roundup of all things Old Mill- and Sobeys-related.