Andrea Rondeau column: How do we decide what makes the news?

There’s a lot of what some might term “squishy” gut feelings involved.

So how do we decide what’s news and what isn’t? What are we going to print and what are we not? What are the reporters going to cover?

I wish I could give you a set of hard and fast rules, but that’s just not how the news works. There’s a lot of what some might term “squishy” gut feelings involved.

There are a few things that are obvious. For example, fires, murders, missing people and fatal car crashes are news. Animal abuse is something that catches our readers’ attention. So too are decisions made by our local governments that are going to have a big impact on the community, so tax increases (or reductions — though I’m not sure I’ve ever covered one of those), big developments, bad smells and elections.

Money from senior levels of government coming into the community for various projects is another obvious choice.

Most upcoming events will warrant a mention, if not an entire story.

And then there are the things that fall outside of all of those categories, or only tangentially touch upon them. And when it comes to those, the frustrating (for people who want the world to be black and white) and true answer is that often as the editor, and as journalists, we know it when we hear it. Sometimes it’s someone caught in a bureaucratic knot so bizarre it makes me jaw drop open. Sometimes it’s an item that’s so touching it brings a tear to the eye — it can be either good or tragic, or a little bit of both. An example of that last, for me, would be the story we did a couple of years ago now about a Cowichan Valley man named Ernie who talked to us about choosing doctor assisted death, alongside his beloved wife.

Sometimes someone or something has reached an amazing milestone. Maybe there’s a new and promising technology. Perhaps someone has risen to prominence in their field.

Of course, some things take precedence (see the above breaking news categories), so there are times when we’re interested in your idea or item, but we just can’t get to it right this minute.

It needs to be interesting, and should evoke some kind of emotion. It has to catch my attention.

Generally speaking, I always figure that if I’m not interested in it, and can’t imagine who would be interested in it, it’s not worth our time, which seems to be at more of a premium all the time.

And sometimes a person is just talking and it lights up a part of my brain.

Because really I’m left with that same, somewhat unsatisfying answer: I know it when I hear it.

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