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Monday, May 4, 2015

Ross Rambles: Perception versus reality

Monday, April 25, 2005

We often hear comments about how we might be neglecting some part of our coverage area. Surprisingly, the area most mentioned is the town of Cherokee.

I say surprisingly because it's just not true. Sometimes when I point that out, I'm told, "Yes, but there's a perception that it's true."

Some people apparently think a perception is more important than reality. I don't. It's just a quirk of mine.

To document what is real, I made a count of the articles and photos of our coverage area during the first three months of this year, categorizing items into six regions - Cherokee, Marcus-Meriden-Cleghorn, Aurelia, River Valley, Cherokee County and Area.

The first four correspond to school districts with one or more towns in Cherokee County. If an article or photo concerns an event or person in one of the towns in the region or is about the school district, it is counted in one of these regions. The Cherokee region includes the town of Larrabee but this has a negligible effect on the Cherokee count, two photos and one article.

Rather than trying to figure out in what school district a rural event takes place or a rural resident lives, any non-school event or human interest feature concerning something or someone outside of town limits and in Cherokee County is counted in the Cherokee County category. The Cherokee County category is also used for board of supervisor articles or any other item about the function of county government.

The Area region combines the South O'Brien and the Galva-Holstein districts, two school districts in our coverage area without any towns in Cherokee County. I've also thrown into this category several photos and an article about Pierson, articles about the WITCC levy vote and articles about a multi-county economic development effort.

I have much more explaining to do about how the dividing was done but some of you may be thinking that the explanation is already getting tedious. Well, isn't that just too bad? I spent hour after hour collecting this data, so I don't want to hear how tedious it is to read it. Just suck it up and do it!

If you just can't do it, you may go to the table called Coverage by Region, but before you do, please note that sports articles and photos are only counted in the sports category. In order to avoid repeatedly using the words "except for sports" in the other categories, I'm giving this explanation.

Now for those of you still with me, I excluded much from the count to get the project down to a workable level. I counted only those articles and photos concerning our coverage area, which does not include such towns as Sioux City, Le Mars and Storm Lake. Articles about WITCC were counted only when they mentioned the Cherokee campus.

I only counted articles that were at least four sentences long. I didn't count advertisements. I didn't count tables or lists, such as honor rolls or bowling league results. I didn't count questions of the week. If I saw an article more than once, such as a promotion of a benefit event, I counted it only once.

Photos and captions were regarded as a single unit. The captions, when formatted as a caption rather than a separate article, were not counted separately, even when the caption was four or more sentences long.

In some kinds of articles, the connection with some local resident is remote or vague so I avoided the headache of wading into obituaries, weddings, anniversaries or engagements. I didn't count 4-H articles. I didn't count commentary, such as that contained on page 4 or in the sports columns written by Paul Struck and Ben Carstens. I didn't look at the Food Page or Days Gone By.

I didn't count police reports or court reports but I did count articles about an arrest or court matter appearing as a separate article not under the general header of police reports or court reports.

I didn't count special sections including ag, senior scene, car care or the year in review. Counting the year in review, one for sports photos and one for other photos, would have added many more photos to the count. The Moving Forward special section, also not counted, would have added several more articles and photos to the Cherokee category since the focus of this section was on Cherokee businesses and organizations. The Our Town sections other times of the year cover other towns but they are not as large as the Moving Forward special section.

Most sports articles and photos are about high school events but there are some other sports items such as an indoor archery tournament and competitive events sponsored by Cherokee Parks and Rec. All half-time activities, pep rallies and athletic booster club activities were categorized as sports.

When two or more teams from our coverage area met at a game or tournament, the article was counted in the two or more appropriate regions. A photo at such an event would be counted in more than one region but only when the photo and caption included individuals from more than one district. Photos and articles from the AGH wrestling team were counted both for Aurelia and the Area regions.

I avoided counting any article or photo in more than one category except those sports situations described above. I counted an article about the kindergarten roundup activities in multiple districts in the Area category and the joint school board meeting between Aurelia and Cherokee in the Cherokee County category.

With most of these guidelines established prior to starting on the counting project, there were still items that required thinking about before assigning to a region. It illustrated the point that our lives are not confined to a tiny area.

I asked myself why some people are so concerned about the amount of coverage we give to one part of our coverage area relative to other parts. How narrowly do people define where they live? Should I study how much coverage each ward of Cherokee gets in order to ensure that all parts of town are treated fairly?

Anyway, I have done about as good a job of preparing a comparison of coverage as possible.

Analysis

Cherokee articles and photos dominate every category, perhaps too much so. This is even more true when you take into account that many of the Cherokee County items have more to do with Cherokee than any other town.

It's not as though we have an abundance of articles and photos from a specific region that aren't being published because of too much attention to some other region. Personally, I would like to see more articles and photos about bald, bearded people who live in the northwest part of Cherokee, but we simply don't have a lot of those articles and photos to use.

After my long and tedious effort to establish what the reality of our coverage is, I don't want to be told about people's perceptions. I don't give a well, I forget what it is, but I know there's something I don't give about people's perceptions.

COVERAGE BY REGION

First three months of 2005

Cherokee

Articles: Front - 78; Other - 64; Total - 142

Photos: Color - 246; Other - 103; Total - 349

Sports: Articles - 144; Photos - 264

Marcus-Meriden-Cleghorn

Articles: Front - 6; Other - 33; Total - 39

Photos: Color - 28; Other - 37; Total - 65

Sports: Articles - 29; Photos - 41

Aurelia

Articles: Front - 7; Other - 12; Total - 19

Photos: Color - 14; Other - 8; Total - 22

Sports: Articles - 41; Photos - 41

River Valley

Articles: Front - 1; Other - 21; Total - 22

Photos: Color - 36; Other - 47; Total - 83

Sports: Articles - 19; Photos - 24

Cherokee County

Articles: Front - 34; Other - 7; Total - 41

Photos: Color - 26; Other - 6; Total - 32

Area

Articles: Front - 10; Other - 7; Total - 17

Photos: Color - 10; Other - 15; Total - 25

Sports: Articles - 49; Photos - 58