December 2, 2023

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Letter from the Editor: Answers to reader comments about Page One and more

Over the past few weeks, several readers have questioned the placement of news about Afghanistan and the chaotic end to America’s longest war there.

Some readers felt sure politics – bias toward the left, specifically – was at work.

“I see that the Afghanistan debacle— arguably the most urgent story in the world this week — was covered in today’s edition (Aug. 23) on page A7 and in Sunday’s on page A22 — both with quite mild headlines — along the lines of ‘not much to see here,’” one reader wrote. “I contrast that to Donald Trump’s 2019 cancelling of a trip to Denmark being mockingly included as one of the most significant events in human history (in Friday’s list of ‘This day in history.’)”

Another said: “What has happened in Afghanistan is a disaster of monumental proportions for our country and the world and it will be felt for a long time into the future. Burying it inside The Oregonian is burying The Oregonian.”

I don’t try to address hypotheticals (“If this had been President Donald Trump, you would have …”) because those arguments often assume an immutable yardstick for front-page news. In reality, many factors go into the daily decisions around A1, the most prominent page in the newspaper.

We know readers rarely get their first news of major world or national events from the newspaper. That’s the reality of an old-style manufacturing process that sends newsprint through presses and onto trucks for doorstep delivery. Most stories like news about Afghanistan, hurricanes or similar international or national events have reached readers through their mobile devices.

In 2021, 86% of Americans sometimes or often consume news on mobile electronic devices, according to the Pew Research Center. Contrast this with a 2012 Pew report, with its almost quaint italics for emphasis: “Nearly a quarter of U.S. adults, 23%, now get news on at least two devices–a desktop/laptop computer and smartphone, a computer and a tablet, a tablet and a smartphone, or on all three.”

The news consumption landscape has indeed dramatically changed in the past decade.

But the people who write in to comment are not arguing they needed the front page to alert them to the news. They want to see The Oregonian make a statement about the importance of the event and, in particular, the readers who contacted me wanted the media in general to hold President Joe Biden to account for his decision-making.

I’ve long said we will favor local news for prominence on The Oregonian’s front page when important stories are competing for the same spot. Our newsroom can provide news that readers cannot get anywhere else, as opposed to news they actually have seen everywhere else by the time the paper arrives.

But I also recognize there are moments when national or world events do need to be most prominent.

When I look back over our front pages, I think we’ve largely struck the appropriate balance. We had front page stories and photos when the Taliban took control (Aug. 16 edition) and when Biden was called to answer for the chaotic exit (Aug. 17). We carried a local article on the Aug. 19 front page about leaders welcoming potential Afghan refugees to Oregon.

When Biden addressed the nation after the deadly terrorist attack at Kabul airport, we had that on A1, as well as a story and photo marking the end of America’s longest war (Aug. 31).

Several other reader comments and questions have arrived in the past few weeks. Here are a few:

Comment: “The headline story, ‘This guy was a hero’ in today’s Oregonian (Aug. 22) is not NEWS, it an old story I read about a week ago as an online story published by the Oregonian. It’s a nice public interest feel good story, but front-page NEWS? Come on, you can do better than that.”

Answer: There is plenty of hard news right now — surging COVID, western wildfires, spike in gun violence, Afghanistan — but we like to give readers a change of pace. On that particular Sunday, we highlighted the story of a man who helped rescue a family after a car crash into down a riverbank. The man’s story, it seemed to me, held universal appeal.

It’s true this particular story was published on OregonLive before it appeared in print. That happens occasionally but often a Sunday front page article is published in The Oregonian and on OregonLive on the same day. In this case, the online article was exclusively for subscribers.

Comment: Not sure who to direct this to, but not happy with no printing the results of the lotteries. It takes the same space (as) printing the websites.

Answer: We made this change a few weeks ago, prompted by changes in our Saturday night deadlines for our Sunday newspaper starting with today’s editions. The earlier deadline means the Saturday night drawing results for Megabucks and Powerball, two popular games, would not appear until the Monday edition, which is not home delivered.

Results are available daily on the Oregon Lottery website, its Facebook page or via its Oregon Lottery app for phones. As with all changes, we will continue to assess the impact on readers.

The earlier Saturday night deadlines also may affect late sports news. In those cases, OregonLive will have updated results.

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