Ed Puskas: Keeping it in the fairway

Star Beacon Editor Ed Puskas

There is no arena more parochial than high school sports.

If you’re from East Podunk, you can be sure most of your neighbors are convinced the local paper favors West Podunk.

The West Podunk folks doubtlessly feel the same way about coverage of East Podunk.

And both towns are sure the paper is in the tank for Colossal High, the area’s biggest school, or St. Elmo, because the private schools always get the best treatment.

One of my former bosses in the business routinely took calls from readers convinced that his sports reporters had it in for their schools.

“Not true — we hate them all,” he’d say with deadpan seriousness before explaining that we tried our best to treat them all equally, no matter where they were located in the county or how big or small they were.

And it was true.

A good sportswriter doesn’t root for teams. He or she roots for good stories and the clock, especially on deadline, and for the final out in those never-ending 19-18 high school baseball games.

But nothing beats a good conspiracy theory and you’re just never going to convince someone whose mind is already made up that his team or school always gets shorted. Sometimes, it’s individual parents who are convinced that there is a vast journalistic conspiracy against their kids.

A sports editor friend once told me about a set of basketball parents who took it to an extreme. Their son was one of the two top players on the local high school team. Each kid averaged about 15 points a game and either was more than capable of grabbing a headline on a given night. Sometimes they both did.

But at the end of the season, the parents sent the sports editor an email venting about his treatment of their son. You see, he had his photo in the sports section just six times and the other kid was pictured in print nine times.

I hope that poor kid and his parents eventually recovered from the emotional toll that miscarriage of justice had to have taken on them.

So where is all this is going? It’s going where most everything — unfortunately — ends up these days. To politics.

A reader called Friday to register his displeasure with a recent front-page story in this newspaper.

The subject was a local political official. The caller was upset because that story was on the front page and another story — with somewhat regional appeal — was placed inside. I should note that the second story had a front-page promo directing readers to it because we felt it was also important.

The caller deduced by the play of those two stories that the newspaper is in the tank for the wrong political party. He did not actually say, “the wrong political party,” but that’s what he meant. To him, the placement of the stories was a personal affront.

“You’re a Democrat newspaper. I seen it,” he said.

He said “Democrat” like it was something you might step in and then furiously try to clean from the bottom of your shoe before the stink takes hold. That is the sort of attitude that makes politics so frustrating these days.

The truth is, we are neither a Democrat or a Republican newspaper. We do not endorse candidates for local, state or national races and we cover the two main political parties with the same approach and intent — to be accurate and fair. 

No story gets placed anywhere within our pages or on our website based on political affiliation. We also do our best to present differing viewpoints on our op-ed pages. We go to great lengths to avoid catering to one side or another. 

But again, some people will just never be convinced. That’s why another former boss warned against reading the comments on a newspaper website. I never was good at taking sage advice, so I know that depending on political perspectives, different readers can be convinced that a publication is both too liberal and too conservative. 

We are neither. I may not be able to keep my drives in the middle of the fairway, but that’s where our newspaper is every day, even if we might be critical of a political party’s policies or a political figure’s approach or demeanor.

Even if we wanted to go all right or all left or all red or all blue, that sort of hyper-partisan approach doesn’t serve our readers well. Our job isn’t to become a political echo chamber one way or the other.

We’ll leave that to the people who doubtlessly fill your Facebook feed or Twitter timeline with partisan rants.

We’ll just keep rooting for good stories, the clock and the calendar.

ED PUSKAS is Editor of The Star Beacon. Write to him at epuskas@starbeacon.com and follow him on Twitter, @Ed_Puskas.

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