Public Editor

How ‘wonky’ should news coverage of sports and government be?

Some readers want detailed coverage of politics, while others look for the big picture.
Some readers want detailed coverage of politics, while others look for the big picture.

How specialized, even “wonky,” should news coverage in a general-interest publication such as The Kansas City Star be? Readers have shared several excellent observations on this question in recent weeks.

In some cases, the answer is obvious. Kansas City Chiefs beat writer Terez A. Paylor has one job: to report on the team as knowledgeably as possible. The same goes for any other reporters whose beat is so narrowly defined. Rustin Dodd similarly follows the Royals, as does Tod Palmer for MU and the newly installed Jesse Newell for KU.

Readers obviously expect game reports, features on players and updates on rosters. And the big fans often want much more, including the incredible attention to detail that many devote to the minutiae of statistical analysis of the games.

But that can sometimes get a little too inside baseball, literally. “Could our baseball writers occasionally define analytic acronyms like ‘WAR’?” asked an emailer last week, noting that people who aren’t already familiar with the term are automatically at a loss.

(It stands for Wins Above Replacement, generally defined as “a player’s total contributions to his team.” Its meaning is arcane to the layperson, to say the least.)

This reader’s observation is a great one but also points out a chicken-and-egg counter-argument: There are uncountable sources for sports stats nuts to dive as deeply as they want, and I’d imagine it’s likely anyone interested in such detailed analysis isn’t looking to The Star as a primary source. Such is the world of today’s micro-targeted publishing.

Some specialized beats cover a lot of ground. Three prominent examples: Lynn Horsley watches developments from Kansas City’s City Hall. Ed Eveld reports on the Kansas Legislature, and Jason Hancock does the same from Jefferson City.

It is never humanly possible to cover the goings-on from such bodies truly comprehensively. And that’s why the beats are inherently tricky.

A caller last week offered a detailed critique of The Star’s Topeka coverage, from both staff and wire reports. “I appreciated (Friday’s) article about sales tax on groceries, because my food bill is one of the biggest things my family deals with.

“But why did you put this other article about (state legislators) almost wanting a convention of the states way back, buried on Page 4?” she asked. “In the long run, if that happens — and I think it should, by the way — that’s going to be a lot more important to everyone. A lot of us think the government is way too big, and this is how we want to stop it. Don’t hide that news.”

I’ve had many discussions through the years with readers requesting coverage of proposed legislation at all levels of government. Often, they’ve learned of these bills via activist networks. That’s a good thing, by the way. The Founding Fathers were in some ways the ultimate government watchdogs, after all.

Sometimes, though, reporters and editors are aware of these bills but choose not to report on them because they have no realistic chance of passage. Many don’t even make their way out of committee but are instead grandstanding political gestures. Passing on news coverage is often the right journalistic choice.

I’m always interested in other readers’ viewpoints on how much detail is too much, or where The Star doesn’t dig deeply enough. Let me know your thoughts.