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Josh Bergeron: Newspapers should keep readers informed about how news is made

For many industries, it’s relatively easy for customers to deduce the basic ways products make it to them.

For example, fast food restaurants train kitchen employees in the best methods to produce meals. Employees in the kitchen pass off completed and packaged meals to cashiers or servers, who then take payment and hand food to customers. At may restaurants, exact recipes remain secret.

At brick-and-mortar clothing stores, there are a number of ways to get inventory, including purchasing products from bulk distributors. Clothing stores generally sell products to customers for slightly more than the costs to acquire them and customers go home with their new items.

Newspapers, meanwhile,  generally sell their products to customers for less than the input costs, but use advertising to make up the difference.

Naturally, news is the most important part of newspapers; it’s the job of editors to hire “beat” reporters to become subject matter experts on particular areas of the community or know where to find experts. It’s critical that reporters form good lines of communication with people on their beat, find news and report it.

For an industry that holds public officials to high standards of transparency, however, news could use a bit more explanation than that. Providing more information about the ways in which we operate will only improve our relationship with readers — our customers.

In February, I wrote a column titled “Transparency for local news, too” about news values — the standards we use to decide whether something is news — and another in January (“News could use some explanation”) about content on our opinion pages.

One frequent question from readers is “how do you find news?”

Some of the news stories you’ll see in the Post come from regularly scheduled board meetings — Salisbury City Council, Rowan County commissioners, Rowan-Salisbury School Board and town board meetings.

At those meetings, reporters have to recognize the most important items, consider questions that need to be answered for a complete story and make sure to ask them afterward if they aren’t answered before adjournment. Sometimes that’s tough if board members quickly disperse.

Most board meetings happen on Mondays or Tuesdays. And unless meetings run late into the night, reporters return to the office to write their stories before our deadlines.

But government board meetings are far from the only place where news happens. There’s plenty of newsworthy government action that never sees a board meeting room. That’s when it’s critical to hire reporters who are able to immerse themselves in their “beat” and make themselves among the first people to know when newsworthy events and decisions happen.

At local newspapers, reporters and editors also should immerse themselves in the community and find good feature stories about the people and places in their coverage area — primarily Salisbury and Rowan County at the Post.

The Post also publishes state, national and a limited amount of world news from wire services like the Associated Press. We choose whether to publish news from elsewhere based on space and the degree to which it’s of interest to or will affect local people.

Post readers will also find stories from “freelancers” — people who are not staff members at the Post but know about good news stories and have a talent for writing. Familiar names include Maggie Blackwell, David Freeze, Susan Shinn Turner and Dave Shaw.

Often, we rely on readers and community members to tell us when they’ve spotted something that’s worthy of a story or when we’ve missed a good opportunity. The best way to do that is to email news@salisburypost.com or call the newsroom at 704-797-4250.

Sometimes we’re unable to make it to a local event, but we can almost always find space if readers submit information. We ask readers to submit a couple photos and basic information — who, what, when, where and why. That’s true whether it’s a school event, church event or just local people doing something interesting.

There are changes happening in the business of local news, but newspapers cannot ignore the value of keeping readers informed. That means keeping readers informed about their communities as well as about how news got into the newspaper.

Josh Bergeron is editor of the Salisbury Post.

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