The Wilmington Police Department is arresting dozens of people on a warm summer morning as part of a drug ring plaguing Clinton County. The Wilmington News Journal is there.
The governor is in town to dedicate a new hangar at AMES, a positive development that will bring at least 259 jobs to the area. The Wilmington News Journal is there.
These two events happened on the same day recently, and the stories went online at nearly the same time.
When I checked the page view statistics on each article three days later on our website, the story about the hangar opening had 1,800 views.
The story about the 72-person drug ring being busted had 47,000 views over the course of that same period.
That is 26 times more views the “bad news” received. (You could easily argue the drug bust story falls under “good news” — hey, these guys got busted — but it’s related to a severe drug problem in our community, so let’s call it “bad” for the purposes of this column.)
Prior to becoming editor of the News Journal, for three years, I was our company’s southwest group online editor for the News Journal, The Times-Gazette in Hillsboro, the Washington Court House Record-Herald, The News Democrat in Georgetown and The People’s Defender in West Union. One of my duties was to look at all of our papers’ website views each week, and analyze our social media stats.
Time after time, the “bad news” stories are read the most.
The numbers do not lie.
Well-meaning folks will mention to me that the “bad news” on the front page is driving away good people and businesses from moving here. I read several newspapers in southwest Ohio — the same types of stories are being printed on the front pages of other small-town communities across Ohio, too, and in the same spots.
It should also be noted that those communities have not had several hundred new jobs come to their communities in the last two years. Wilmington has, so apparently, it’s not driving away employers as some would believe.
Newspapers being criticized for “only printing the bad stuff” is as old as newspapers themselves. Any editor at any newspaper across the country hears the same from readers.
The latest recent example was when someone mailed me a photocopy of the May 28 front page of the News Journal. He included a “letter to the editor” that was only one line and copied several people in town, such as the mayor and commissioners. His point, I assume, was that the “bad news” coverage means Wilmington is now a “sewer pit,” as he called it.
The top story was about a man and his wife who were indicted on 46 counts with a connection to a break-in. The other top story on the left was about a man sentenced for a B&E.
But on his photocopy, he completely blanked out our dominant story for the day: A preview story about the Red Cross’ Power of the Purse event.
The other stories blanked out of his photocopy? A preview story on The Murphy Theatre’s summer arts program, and two photos of Memorial Day services held across Clinton County — all “good news” stories.
Sixty-seven percent of the front page was “good news” and 33 percent was “bad news,” but, apparently he can’t have the truth get in the way of a point he’s trying to make.
If we have three front page stories that are “bad news,” the rest of the entire paper, including sports and the front, is jam-packed with “good news,” excellent, reader-submitted news about civic groups doing great work in our communities, and organizations recognizing youth with awards or scholarships, or kids doing service work to continue to help make this place a great place to live.
I love printing stories about what the garden club did last month or the book clubs’ announcements; I love printing what happened at the latest American Legion meeting, or that the FFA hosted a dinner to raise money for someone in need.
We are thrilled when Sally and Johnny email us a photo and write-up about their parents’ 50th wedding anniversary; we love getting a photo about Peggy’s 90th birthday celebration; and we are delighted to run a story about the local Girl Scouts and its latest do-good project.
Keep those submitted items coming, and send us more at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Bad news” falls into our laps, that’s why I love putting our staff on upbeat stories, too, like the one Aly Shinkle wrote about a grandfather who flew planes in Vietnam and was inspired 30 some years later to get his private pilot’s license by his granddaughter, who had just earned hers.
Or the story David Wright wrote about a local 15-year-old boy who rode his bike 600 miles in 25 days to raise money for Stillwater Stables.
Or the story Gary Huffenberger wrote about an East Clinton graduate who took a pilgrimage in Spain.
What fantastic stories!
“OK, Lora. I get you need to print the ‘bad news,’ but why don’t you run it on the inside?” you might ask.
That’s a really great question.
We are tasked with telling the community’s story — the good and the bad. If we only put the “bad news” on page 5, then we just stopped being the mirror of the community. Now, we have an agenda, now we just decided to shelter the truth and that would be shameful.
Someone sent me a screenshot of a week’s worth of the forecast where my husband and I were going to be on vacation. A few of those days it showed a 30-percent chance of rain. My immediate thought was, “So, there’s a 70-percent chance it’s going to be sunny? That’s awesome.”
I choose to see the Clinton County glass half full.
Lora Abernathy is the content manager of the Wilmington News Journal. She can be reached at 937-382-2574 or on Twitter @AbernathyLora.