McCOMB - A famous newspaper publisher of a long gone era once opined that "it's a newspaper's duty to print the news and raise hell."
I don't necessarily ascribe to the hell-raising part, but I always have believed it's a newspaper's responsibility to print the news.
The question, though, to paraphrase Bill Clinton, who once had a problem with the word "is," is how do you define news.
One dictionary definition which I think comes close is "a report of recent events." Another is "material reported in a newspaper or news periodical or on a newscast."
Most people - myself included - consider news to include material or descriptions of events about which they didn't previously know.
You wake up on Sunday morning and learn that there has been an accident or an acquaintance has died. You didn't know about it until you saw the newspaper or heard it on a newscast. Now that's news.
But most of us also want to read about events we have witnessed or that we already know occurred. Fans who attend a ball game eagerly grab the sports section the next day to read statistics and cliche-ridden comments from coaches and players.
I know from long experience as an editor that people want to read about that which they already know, especially if it's about their kids and it's good news.
Now if a kid messes up, that's something else. Most parents don't necessarily think being charged with a crime or causing a car wreck is news fit to print if it involves their own.
I have concluded that only two things can get you into real trouble as a small town editor - what's in the paper and what's not. I've caught flack from both, and one of the joys of retirement is not having to explain to angry parents and relatives why one news article is in the newspaper and another is not.
What brought on this musing about news was a report I read a few weeks ago from Huntsville, Texas, that managers of the newspaper there decided to quit reporting on Major League baseball until the threatened player strike was settled, which it subsequently was.
The Huntsville Item polled readers before deciding to drop game reports, box scores and standings, and 82 percent of those responding supported a news boycott of Major League baseball in their hometown paper.
I disagree with the decision to even poll readers on such a subject, let alone abide by their decision.
Reader polls and being reader-friendly is in vogue these days, and I don't totally disagree with the premise.
But I'm old-fashioned enough to believe in the tradition that editors, for better or worse, should judge the news on a daily basis and not get locked into some preconceived mode of automatically excluding what even a minority of their readers want to see.
One thing about it, though, especially regarding state and national news. Those who wanted to see the baseball standings could certainly get them in another newspaper or on the Internet.
With today's technology and the plethora of media outlets, no one has a monopoly on news.
Thanks to television, you can see news happening sometimes, the most notable example being the second airplane hitting the World Trade Center in New York last Sept. 11.
Also, thanks to television, you can see it over and over again until, in my opinion, it no longer is news.
My late father had a unique way of judging news stories and newspapers. The best stories, in his view, were those he liked. If they were opinion pieces, they reflected his opinion.
The best newspapers were the two on which my brother and I happened to be working at the time - especially when we were raising a little hell about some issue on which he agreed.