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posted: 3/14/2013 11:33 AM

News decisions involve more than hits and clicks

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Random thoughts journalistic:

• I promise not to devote yet another entire column to coverage of the April 9 election, but I couldn't help shuddering at a true fact that emerged during an editors' discussion on measuring the popularity of particular stories.

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The Web allows us to track audience actions and interests in ways we never could 10 years ago, a practice that one editor urged us to employ with considered discipline. He pointed out that our top stories of 2012 in terms of simple audience numbers on a single day included our reporting on a visit to Woodfield by the Kardashian sisters, followed by a story on a sex crime so hideously stomach-churning that I disdain to unnecessarily repeat its details.

He wisely cautioned us against basing news coverage and play decisions, either in print or on the Web, solely on a story's potential to, in modern parlance, "attract eyeballs." Immersed as I am in election matters these days -- as all of us here at the Daily Herald are, in fact -- I was drawn to ponder the overwhelming effort we're putting in now on local election coverage, stories likely far down the Potential Readership Attraction list from celebrities in the suburbs or salacious sex crimes.

If "hits" and "clicks" were our only criteria, or even our chief criteria, for making news judgments we might have a much greater audience -- in print as well as online, I suppose. Thankfully -- at least to my way of thinking and in the interests of democracy -- they are not. The April 9 elections may capture the interest of only a small portion of suburban readers, unfortunate as that fact is, but they are critically important to everybody, and those who care enough to pay attention can count on getting some useful and engaging information here.

• That may not be the best way to segue into sports talk, but it has been fun to watch and cover the remarkable Blackhawks start to the lockout-shortened season. Nothing like a historic win streak to rejuvenate the spirits of disgruntled fans and "attract eyeballs."

• I'm a bit mystified by the mounting press pressure on Derrick Rose to shake off his injury worries and get back out on the court, but I think the stories and columns are important. Yes, it was just a year ago when everyone seemed to be extolling Rose's grit and courage even as he continued to play with ever-more-serious injuries. But the writers' mission hasn't changed. Speculating and pontificating on the actions or inactions of superstars is an important part of the experience of being a fan. Knowledgeable writers, however fickle or consistent they may be, enhance that experience.

• In an interview this week, a school board candidate making a point about people's interaction on controversial topics speculated that, in comparison, our commenting participation has "probably" decreased since we began requiring commenters to identify themselves. It has, but not by much and, depending on the topic of the day, it continues to grow. My own personal reflection: Yes, a lot of people will jump in a conversation with snark and bitterness when they don't have to be identified with their remarks, but many also prefer to take part in more well-mannered dialogue. There's still plenty of fire and rudeness, not that anyone wants it, in the comments that appear now, but I believe more of the latter-style commenters are starting to come back.

• Jim Slusher, jslusher@dailyherald.com, is an assistant managing editor at the Daily Herald. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

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