Legislator information, editorial decisions among topics at Coffee with the Editor

A request for more information about legislators, letters to the editor, bad news vs. good news and a question as to why a high-profile murder trial was The Daily Courier's top story of 2010 were among the items discussed at the most recent Coffee with the Editor sitdown with readers on Wednesday at the newspaper's Prescott office.

Six readers took part in the roundtable, led by Courier Editor Tim Wiederaenders.

Elizabeth Wilkins wants to see more accountability from her elected officials.

"Legislators need to be more accountable to the constituents," she said. "I propose a half-page every month or every week in the Sunday edition to include legislators' names with bios, committees they serve and their standing on them."

Wiederaenders talked about the Courier's past editorial practice of publishing a weekly Roll Call-type report of our local legislators and suggested that a return to a similar feature might be worthy.

"Times have changed," Wiederaenders said. "The political landscape has become more uneven."

Al Herron, a retired former Courier columnist, questioned the timeliness of the Letters to the Editor, published daily on Page 4A.

"So often they're talking about something that happened 2-3 weeks ago," Herron said. "You forget what the whole thing was about by then."

Wiederaenders explained that the volume of letters received challenges the publishing schedule.

"Some of the mechanics make it difficult," he said. "Whenever I get to the folder that includes approved letters, there are at least 100 there. Of course, I start with the oldest because those have been sitting."

Another reader, Walt Hammon, wants to see more inspirational stories about local volunteerism.

"I'd like to see more things published in the newspaper about our community service in relation to how the community volunteers," Hammon said. "It would encourage more people to get out and volunteer."

Wiederaenders cited the Courier's ongoing volunteer-themed content, including a recent story (Jan. 23) that profiled a recent boost in volunteerism for local agencies after the MLK holiday's challenge to increase opportunities.

"We work our best to cover many things," Wiederaenders said. "One page I would direct you to is our Community Page in the back of the A section. We also run volunteer listings 2-3 times a week."

Another reader, Trygve Lerwick, asked about the selection process for the Daily Courier's Top 10 Stories of 2010. Wiederaenders explained the editorial department's process of compiling major stories and events from throughout the calendar year, the department's in-house balloting, and discussion and analysis among the editorial board to determine a final list, including last year's top selection - the Steven DeMocker murder trial and subsequent mistrial.

"We look for things that caught the public's interest or affected people," Wiederaenders said. "The other factor is that we're trying to get important records unsealed. I guarantee that trial - which came to nothing - cost us $1 million. You, me and the taxpayers."

A reader, Stan Sides, questioned publishing stories such as foreclosures and problems in downtown Prescott. "Do we really want to emphasize the bad?," Sides asked.

"I would hate to ignore something purposely, and it's so inflammatory and then it comes back to bite us," Wiederaenders explained. "There are things that affect people, and they get mad."

Sides offered another perspective.

"Once a week or once a month, I'd like to see a page that prints happy news - a soap box derby, the Boy Scouts, someone donated $75,000," he said. "It would be nice to see that. And maybe a quote of the day. I love quotes."

If you'd like to participate in the next Coffee with the Editor, please call Sally Webb at 445-3333, Ext. 2044.