Prompted by an event that consumed much of the newsroom last week, the Queens Chronicle wishes to use this space to reaffirm our commitment to providing our readers with the highest quality newspaper it’s in our power to deliver.
That event was the New York Press Association’s Spring Convention and Trade Show, which a delegation of four Chronicle newsroom staffers attended, along with the publisher and general manager. As always, the convention was filled with seminars designed to improve a reporter’s or editor’s ability to cover the news, whether by discussing the latest technologies or by reiterating the basic responsibilities and ethics of the profession. Other sessions were geared toward other aspects of the business, such as advertising, page design, website analytics and the bottom line.
And the convention featured the presentation of NYPA’s annual Better Newspaper Contest awards, eight of which the Chronicle took home this year, including three first-place wins [see separate story]. The competition was fierce, with 158 newspapers submitting 2,437 entries in 60 award categories.
But a highlight of this year’s convention was the keynote address, given by Alex Jones, a Pulitzer Prize winner who now heads a center on journalism and public policy at Harvard University. Jones stressed that as technological change impacts the newspaper industry more and more, journalists get put in greater danger of losing sight of the core of their craft: the fact-checking, the fairness and, above all, the prioritization that puts reporting on government and other large, powerful institutions at the top of the list. Yes, we need entertainment too — the readers demand it — but our first duty must be toward revealing what people need to know, Jones reminded the audience.
Which is why we were thrilled that just a few minutes after he finished speaking and the awards started coming, the Chronicle won first place for coverage of local government, in the highest circulation category among all weekly papers statewide. And later we took first place again, for our editorials, which, as the judges pointed out, go nicely with our reporting on the city government.
You have to report the facts even when they don’t reflect your point of view, Jones insisted, if you’re a serious news outlet. We do that pretty much every week. And sometimes those facts even change a paper’s opinion, as has happened here with standardized testing and mayoral control of schools. We’re not ready to throw out either, believing they do bring some benefits — a uniform way to measure one student’s knowledge against another’s and room for new ideas in how schools are run, respectively. But frequent revelations of teachers and administrators manipulating grades on the one hand, and the decline in support for schools the city believes are failing, which then creates a self-fulfilling prophecy, on the other, have weakened our support for Mayor Bloomberg’s policies tremendously over the last couple of years.
We don’t believe a return to the old system is the answer, but if someone proposed a third way with less mayoral power, we’d be all ears.
This is the way an honest news operation handles facts that conflict with its prior beliefs —it reconsiders them. And that integrity carries through to all we do, whether it’s printing letters to the editor we disagree with or opening our doors to upset readers who want to speak to someone in authority. This is a large part of what it means to be, as the front page says each week, “your community newspaper.” We pledge to remain just that.