What readers want
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Probably the most frequent complaint newspaper editors hear is that we make our decisions based on one guiding principal: "To sell more papers."
To the contrary, that phrase is rarely uttered in this newsroom, although I'll quickly acknowledge we often discuss "what readers want." Maybe they are one in the same, but we don't think in terms of "sales." It's just not the nature of news people.
I raise this topic in light of Shamokin Mayor George Rozinskie Jr.'s letter to the editor of Jan. 10, in which he said The News-Item is "reporting on controversy where there is none" to "sell more papers."
Among the handful of Sound Off callers who came to our defense, one suggested it's a shame if we "take" this criticism. We appreciate that, and yet we're not beyond criticism, and maybe the mayor is right. Maybe we focus on the negative more than we should.
That said, one part of the mayor's letter does deserve a reply, for the sake of clarity.
We published a lengthy story about Coal Township's budget on Dec. 28 in which, in the next to last paragraph, a reference was made to how much the commissioners are paid. It said they "each earn $3,250, almost to the dollar what their counterparts on Shamokin City Council earn, although the city's mayor earns slightly more."
The mayor, at a Jan. 2 meeting, noted to our reporter that his salary is $4.17 more a month than the other councilmen and that the city does not pay his health benefits. He "made a specific request that both of these items be mentioned in the article; neither appeared," he wrote in his letter.
They didn't appear because the article produced from that meeting had nothing to do with the city budget or who makes what on council. Plus, the mayor made his request prior to the meeting; it wasn't part of the meeting.
Still, to be sure we had done our due diligence, I researched our past documentation of the mayor's salary and health benefits. Here's what I found:
- On Nov. 21, 2012, in a story that did pertain to local municipal budgets, the mayor's $3,300 annual salary was listed along with those of the councilman, who each make $3,249.96. (The $50.04 difference does equate to $4.17 per month, as the mayor noted.)
- Nov. 22, 2011: A story about city finances said, "Rozinskie was put off by the talk of hiring new office staff. He opted out of the city's legislative insurance plan, saving Shamokin $22,000, and didn't like the idea of spending that money on new wages and benefits."
- Nov. 15, 2011: A story about the city's budget reported, "Neither Mayor George Rozinskie Jr. nor Councilman Michael Snyder have insurance through the city."
- Nov. 10, 2011: Another story about the city budget reported, "While it's been well documented that Mayor George Rozinskie Jr. dropped his health coverage, it was unclear which council members received health coverage through the city."
- Oct. 16, 2011: A story about the city refinancing its debt said, "The mayor himself dropped his own city-paid health insurance with an estimated savings of $20,000."
- July 16, 2011: A story detailing how the city had no intention of filing for bankruptcy despite concerns about its financing, said, "... the mayor has health insurance coverage through Medicare and from his service in the U.S. Navy."
I feel comfortable the mayor's lack of insurance coverage through the city has been well documented, and the Dec. 28 story regarding Coal Township didn't confuse that.
Of course, it would have been easy to toss the mayor's letter aside and remind him he shouldn't criticize people who "buy ink by the barrel," as the old saying goes. But I want the mayor to feel free to speak his mind and use the editorial page of his hometown newspaper. Besides, restricting the mayor's voice is likely not what readers want.
(Heintzelman, editor of The News-Item, writes "The Week In News" for each Saturday edition.)