A week ago Tuesday, even as we were putting finishing touches on a Page One story about postcards from the past, I began talking with reporter Bill Kenny about the gun show story you see on this week’s cover.
The National Guard Armory on Roosevelt Boulevard has long been a major venue for gun shows in Northeast Philly, and the one coming up last weekend would be the first since the horrific school shooting in Newtown, Conn. We knew we wanted to be at the show, and Bill and I began discussing what the elements of the story could be and what obstacles the paper might face.
We have largely let our readers speak when it came to coverage of the shooting and the effort nationally and locally to tighten gun ownership laws. We’ve published more than two dozen letters from readers on many sides of the issue, the text of a speech by U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz and even a few poems on the topic. The conversation continues to flow this week with even more letters. President Obama has kept the national debate on the front burner with his proposals to tighten gun ownership laws and ban assault weapons.
Our letters pages are home for your opinions, but the news pages have different rules entirely. This is where we present our best effort at objective reporting, where we aim to accurately, fairly and clearly tell what we see and hear, and put the news into context.
To do that, especially when you’re tackling a hot button issue, takes plenty of work before the first word is written.
Bill and I had a second conversation last Wednesday about what he had learned so far by reading background on previous guns shows, Pennsylvania’s laws on guns and the role pro- and anti-gun groups were playing in the debate.
Then on Thursday, we pulled our staff photographer, Maria Pouchnikova, into the conversation. We talked about how the reporting and photography might unfold. Would the news media be allowed into the gun show? Would patrons talk to us on the record? Would they allow us to photograph them? Our goal always is to print full names and faces in each story because they add to the article’s credibility.
We also wondered how many of our readers have attended a gun show. My informal poll of those in the newsroom had found no one who had been to one. In addition to telling me something about my fellow journalists, it also told me something about what should be included in the story. It should be rich in description because one of the roles a newspaper plays is to take readers to places they’ve never been.
The conversations helped me, as the editor, to consider the gun ownership issue from all points of view. If I were a responsible gun owner, who believed I have been given the right by the Founding Fathers to own a weapon, I could see how I would resent it if some people lumped me in with crazy people who take out their furies on innocent people.
At the same time, as a parent and a grandmother again on New Year’s Day, I believe each life is precious, and none more so than that of a child.
So, into this complex whirl of valid arguments and deep emotions, our reporter and photographer ventured. They had done their homework, thought through their assignment and kept their minds open to whatever they would encounter at the Armory.
We present the results of their fine work on this week’s front cover.
I also want to call your attention to Tom Waring’s piece in the INsider on the passing of the torch at Greenman’s Deli in Lower Mayfair. We learned of this story from a reader who e-mailed us a tip. (The story has prompted more than one conversation in the newsroom about the fabulous hoagies at Greenman’s and the need for a return trip.) Please keep the news tips coming. You are the lifeblood of Northeast Philadelphia, and we love hearing from you. ••
Reach editor Lillian Swanson at 215-354-3030 or firstname.lastname@example.org