How many perspectives should be included in a brief news piece? When are letters considered an appropriate remedy to showing another side of an issue? These are questions that reporters and editors face every day as they exercise their editorial judgment to determine the angle of the story, the people interviewed, and the evidence used to provide an accurate account of events for readers.
The National NewsMedia Council recently reviewed a reader’s concerns about accuracy and lack of opportunity to present another perspective in a story about local pesticide use.
The article, published in an Ontario-based community paper, reported on residents’ reactions to a recent application of fungicide, via helicopter, to a cornfield in the area. The article featured comments from local residents expressing concern with the noise disturbance and proximity of the helicopter to their houses.
An individual in the agricultural industry expressed concern with the lack of perspective from farmers and other members of the agricultural community. In particular, the individual argued that the article suggested that the fungicide was “sprayed liberally on the native ecosystem around the field boundaries,” rather than used correctly by trained professionals.
In reviewing the article, the NNC observed that the comments were clearly the perspective of some residents and were attributed accordingly. The NNC found no evidence to support the claim that the article implied that the product was used incorrectly or outside the intended area.
The brief article offered a summary of the concerns raised by residents about the application of the fungicide near their houses. All statements were attributed accordingly to the individuals quoted in the story.
That said, we understand that the individual’s primary concern in this case was not being able to provide a different perspective and relevant information in response to the concerns raised by residents quoted in the article.
A subsequent edition of the local newspaper dedicated a section of its pages to reader reactions to the brief article.
In one article, the publisher alerted readers to the different—and often strong—perspectives on the published piece and other issues at hand. The edition included a published response from the complainant as well as several letters to the editor and other comments in response to the story.
In this case, the NNC considered the news organization’s decision to publish responses to the article to be consistent with best practices in addressing reader concerns, and found the issue resolved. The significant attention devoted to reader responses provided opportunity to show a range of opinions in the community, from farmers and those outside the agricultural industry.
Letters to the editor offer opportunities to clarify or provide different perspectives on information and opinions presented in articles. In this way, they can often serve as a remedy to concerns raised by readers, and showcase the breadth of opinions held by members of a community.