Public editor

Context in ongoing news topics

Updated: 2014-01-29T00:49:30Z

By Derek Donovan

The Kansas City Star

How much context is enough in news coverage about topics that are written about time and again? One emailer identified a recent example that he thought was lacking:

One of the things that always irritates me is articles that mention things that are not really explained in the article as if readers somehow can get necessary and pertinent information out of the clouds.

A recent example is the article on the front page of the Monday, January 27 Star (about food stamps) .

The article goes into great detail about the increasing number of middle class people getting food stamps, but never explains the procedure to get food stamps or the income requirements to qualify for food stamps.

I am not on food stamps, and I do not know anyone on food stamps. What would really have helped is for The Star to print a helpful box beside the article explaining the income guidelines for food stamps and where one goes to apply for food stamps, and maybe even explaining what food stamps are and how they function.

The food stamps program is a vast topic —one The Star has written about thousands of times through the years. Yet I’m sure this reader is far from the only one who has these fundamental questions about how they work.

The other side of the question of course is whether it’s worth the trade-off in resources and space, especially in the print edition, required to publish this background information. There’s no set answer, but I understand my emailer’s complaint.

To reach Derek Donovan, call 816-234-4487 weekday mornings or send email to Follow him at

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