A little explainer about the stories we’ve run lately

Larry Johnson, the editor and publisher of the Cobb County Courier seated in an office chair in front of a small table with a laptop in article about Cobb County Courier Meet the EditorLarry Johnson, the editor and publisher of the Cobb County Courier

Those of you who come directly to our home page and browse the articles might have noticed that there have been some changes in the balance and type of articles we’ve run over the past few weeks.

The changes in content basically boil down to this:

  • We’ve run a lot of COVID-related articles
  • We’ve run a lot of articles from national publications (with permission, of course)
  • Our coverage of local government has dropped a bit

There’s a short set of answers to why those three things have happened:

  • A lot has been going on involving COVID with the Omicron surge
  • Local news tends to have a slowdown over major holidays, and I chose to focus on the particular national stories I did for reasons I’ll expand on below
  • Government meetings tend to dry up over the holidays, so I scramble to keep content fresh

But what started as a practical need to get content posted caused me to think about how we approach broader issues that have both local and national impact.

I should begin by saying that local news will continue to be our focus. As we pass the new year we’ll keep to our quota of six local stories per day.

But in gathering materials to get us through the holidays, I noticed something. I began by using articles from The Conversation. They provide articles written by experts in their fields with very generous licensing terms.

I’ve averaged about one republished article per day, on topics related either to subjects the Courier considers important (health care, the environment) or general holiday-themed articles.

So I used their content much the same way that larger publications use Associated Press articles, to cover news that the local newsroom doesn’t have the resources to take on themselves.

And the experts who wrote the articles could cover the specific subject matter much better than we could in-house.

As an example, take an article I republished from The Conversation explaining the difference between PCR and antigen COVID tests.

There’s enough information out there that I could have put together a readable article on the same topic, and contacted a few local experts for quotes.

But this existing article by Nathaniel Hafer, an assistant professor in molecular medicine at the UMass Chan Medical School was written clearly, by a recognized expert, and didn’t divert resources from the many local stories that the Courier should be spending its time on.

Also, with the COVID pandemic surging once again, and tests in the news because of the scarcity of available resources, readers get a direct benefit by understanding how those tests work.

I also published a few articles based on the need for holiday materials when we didn’t have anything in-house in the works. The most recent one was a New Years-themed article about the origins of the dominant calendar we use.

I’m a quota-driven person because I believe that’s the only way to enforce policies to drive measurable results.

The quota I’ve set for articles we generate/articles republished from elsewhere is 3:1. In other words, for every three local articles we publish, I’ll publish one article from another publication.

I might adjust that somewhat based on our needs, but I think it’s a good balance. One thing I’m considering is increasing the overall minimum from six articles per day to eight to accommodate the ratio I’ve set more cleanly (every day: 6 local articles and 2 national ones).

But for now I’ll just keep it simple and reachable.

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