Russ Mitchell

The Mitchell Report

Russ Mitchell is editor of The Dickinson County News. He has been in Spirit Lake since January 2010 and began in journalism in 1997. The Mitchell Report can be about anything and everything. Comments are invited.


We have some good news and some bad news

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

We appreciate hearing from readers and, as a human being in a judgement-call industry, I don't expect inbox feedback to come with rose petals and candlelight.

Sure enough, on Monday a reader asked us to put less emphasis on arrest or court reporting and focus more on entrepreneurs and neighbors helping neighbors. It's harder to snoop around the community and "find people doing something right," he told me.

He was unhappy with the DCN issue a week ago, which featured two drug busts, coverage of the multiple crashes from the Feb. 12 white-out conditions (a "weather story" he called it) and coverage of state Democratic chair Troy Price's decision to step down after the chaotic Iowa Caucus tabulation process. He said the court updates left residents and visitors alike with the impression that the Iowa Great Lakes is an "unsafe, crime-ridden community."

Of course his comments gave me pause, so I looked at a few previous front pages to see if our story decisions needed calibration. Maybe you can help:

The week before the issue in question, we had coverage of a partial caucus recanvass (including a Dickinson County precinct), a story about our hospital CEO attending the State of the Union address, a preview of an upcoming beekeeping workshop and a story about flavored vaping cartridge regulations going into effect plus a story about our placement among the best weekly newspapers at the state newspaper convention (51 weeks of no bragging, I promise it's a single-week indulgence every February).

The week before that, the content was closer to 50/50 with the Iowa Caucus results and confusion (in the first issue after the caucus), Spirit Lake Polaris gaining paint operations from Spearfish, South Dakota, and yes, two court cases.

The week before that, a caucus preview and the 2020 Okoboji Summer Theatre season line-up took up 75 percent of our front page. An Arnolds Park man was found to have been transporting a pipe bomb in southern Iowa so, again, some bad news there.

The week before that, no bad news on the front: Mayor Pete Buttigieg visited and we had three Winter Games preview stories.

And that doesn't include the guts of the newspaper, which are stuffed with community items from library news to soup and pie suppers. Even obituaries are a service to the families.

It also doesn't count an entire sports section. Win-or-lose, coverage there celebrates the efforts of our area athletes week-in, week-out.

I think if you took past issues of our newspaper and marked all "good" news with a pink highlighter and used a yellow highlighter for the "bad" news, you would see a very pink paper in totality and a predominantly pink front page most weeks. And, as for the soup and pie suppers I mentioned? They really should be ads, but they often get in as news briefs because they benefit the community. (But please consider an ad, too.)

We're happy to work on positive features, but we're also not a newsletter. We're a newspaper.

News is the very best of us and, unfortunately, the very worst of us.

I've told the newsroom we have to think with a Hy-Vee deli approach, where you pick your entree and two sides. All meat and starch is going to weigh you down, but a to-go container filled with fluffy marshmallow salad isn't a satisfying meal either. We're not flawless. There are weeks when you'll walk right past the deli counter.

But over the course of a year, we hope we give you plenty to chew on.