Editorial / Getting your kid's name in the paper
Unless they're on the police blotter or have embarrassed themselves in some other notable way, most ordinary people like seeing their names in the newspaper.
Among parents, it often seems, the only thing better than getting their names in the paper is getting their children's names in the paper.
An important part of the Citizen's mission is to recognize achievement in the community -- things young and old alike do that distinguish them from the masses. But newspapers don't always share parents' assessments of their kids' newsworthiness.
The Citizen today is publishing something that for this newspaper is highly unusual: a list of all the children participating in an event. Not a list of the highest achievers within their ranks or those with the most significant duties, rather, all the participants.
We'll get to what it is, where you can find it and why it's there.
Nearly every day, information about children involved in myriad activities and events is submitted to The Citizen -- sometimes by parents, sometimes by schools, instructors or leaders of various groups.
The intent universally is to have the newspaper write a positive story and include the names of all the kids mentioned. Photos often are submitted, too. Sometimes The Citizen writes a story that includes all the names; sometimes it uses only some of the names; sometimes it uses none of the names. Sometimes photos are published, sometimes not. Infrequently, nothing at all is published.
Readers may not realize or appreciate it, but The Citizen has standards for weighing the news value of information submitted, and it tries hard to apply those standards equally across the entire community. Who you are, who you know, where you live, whether you're an advertiser doesn't enter the equation. News is the unusual or exceptional, not the routine. The common denominator among names that appear in "good-news" stories -- whether about kids or adults -- is achievement.
Several months ago a children's piano teacher emailed to The Citizen an announcement of his annual student recital. In addition to basic information about the event was a list of all 20 of his students and a notation that the parents wanted the children's names listed. There was no indication any of the kids had distinguished themselves or won any prizes; they were participants.
The Citizen responded that it would be happy to write a short story publicizing the recital, including date, time and place, ticket information and the total number of students scheduled to participate -- even a little bit about the teacher's professional background.
However, the teacher was told, The Citizen would not name all the students participating because it would obligate the paper to do the same for every music and dance school in town. For larger schools, that could mean lists of 100 names each. Factored across all music and dance instruction in town, it would chew up news space to the exclusion of stories about significant accomplishments or great public interest.
And that would just be music and dance recitals. In fairness, wouldn't the paper also have to name every single kid participating in a drama, choral or fine art show? If so, how about every kid participating in martial arts exhibitions and cheerleading competitions? Charity events and community-service projects? Math competitions and Scout activities?
Half the paper would be lists of children who had not necessarily distinguished themselves in any way; they were participating.
The piano teacher said the parents would be disappointed about the names, but he was appreciative of any publicity the paper would provide.
The very next day, however, he forwarded a litany of questions from angry parents who wanted their kids names in the paper and weren't going to let the facts get in the way of their argument:
There's so much negative news in the paper, why won't you print something positive for a change? The Citizen in each edition prints dozens of stories about notable achievements in the arts and many other areas; charitable deeds; entertainment, cultural and sports events; uplifting spiritual programs; plus feel-good human interest stories.
You name all the players in sports stories. Why won't you name all our pianists? We don't, as a matter of fact, name all the players in sports stories. We name the ones who distinguish themselves -- on highly competitive teams they had to try out for, not just sign up for.)
Why can't you make an exception for smaller [read expensive] schools and leave the big ones [read second-rate] out? Because that would be patently biased and unfair.
If you print too much of any currency, it loses value. If names get in the paper for doing the routine, it cheapens the value of recognition for those who've done the exceptional.
The Fairfield American Little League All-Star team has won the state championship. Tonight it begins play in the New England Regional Tournament, the winner of which will play on a national stage in the Little League World Series in Pennsylvania. The team includes 13 boys, all 12 years old. They were selected for this team because they excelled for their respective regular-season teams. Of more than 900 players in Fairfield American Little League, they are elite performers.
On the front page of today's sports section, the team's roster is printed: Number, name and position of each player. It's not there only because they are participating in baseball. It's there because as many of us now jumping on the bandwagon can't tell the players without a roster.
When good kids achieve great things, it's not just good news, it's great news. And the operative word, parents, is "achieve."