Public Editor

June 9, 2013

Government surveillance program deserved greater play than USDA beef labeling proposal

Readers appreciated front-page coverage in print of the NSA/FBI Prism intelligence program, but they questioned its play relative to the day’s lead news story choice.

I believe the people who contact me tend to be among the most serious-minded of The Kansas City Star’s readership. They tend to follow the news very closely via multiple outlets, and often criticize the paper through that lens.

I heard those voices last Friday about that day’s Page A1 story on the National Security Agency and FBI program Prism, which taps directly into servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies to read and analyze communications such as email, photos and audio. Its stated purpose is to surveil for terrorist or spy activity, but it’s obvious why the general population would be concerned and want to know about the project.

“First of all, it’s amazing that you did put the article there on the front page,” said one caller about the editors’ choice. “That’s good. I commend you. But actually that article should have been up (at the top of the page) with big headlines. That is a huge story.”

She wasn’t alone in thinking it merited front-page play, but that it should have been the lead news story of the day.

“I can’t say that this article about the USDA labeling beef didn’t belong in the paper,” said another caller. “But why did that have to go all the way to the top? Don’t you think this story about Prism is way, way more important? I do.”

I absolutely understand that point of view, and I imagine it was shared with others.

I’m sure I know at least part of editors’ reasoning in the choice of story placement: The USDA’s proposal to start labeling beed that has been mechanically tenderized comes after The Star ran an investigative series called “Beef’s Raw Edges” last December.

Those stories looked at the potential health hazards of this process — something food-safety advocates have been concerned about for years. When I explained that to one of my callers, he said he understood but still thought the Prism story was more important.

“I don’t think I can remember anything our government has done that I’m more afraid will be used against us,” he told me. “Tell the people who call the shots that this should be on the front page every day till (the Prism program is) dismantled.”

Remembering D-Day

“I am just so disgusted with The Kansas City Star!” said one caller last Thursday. “I’ve looked through every page of this paper from cover to cover, and you don’t mention anywhere that this is D-Day.”

Others joined her that day. I heard words such as “disappointed” and “disgraceful” from multiple voices.

I didn’t hear back from any of these readers the next day, when the centerpiece of the Local section was a large photo from Thursday’s observance of the event at the Liberty Memorial. I would hope the people who were upset were at least somewhat satisfied to see that coverage.

I often hear similar complaints on the day of significant anniversaries, and I do always convey them to editors. But I do like to remember a saying I’ve heard many times through the years: It’s a newspaper, not a history book.

We all like to see subjects we’re interested in validated by reading about them, and I agree that commemoration of important events is vital to a society. Covering these observances as news is generally the best way to satisfy both historic and journalistic concerns.

Related content



Editor's Choice Videos