A college journalism teacher once walked into my crowded classroom and told us: "If every one of you were to become the editor of your hometown's newspaper tomorrow, no two of you would publish your newspaper the same way."

It's the same thing with readers.

Everyone has their own idea about what is most important, what should be on Page 1, what should be ignored and what should be the newspaper's opinion on its editorial page.

Perhaps that's why the comics and obits are the undisputed kings among all longtime newspaper readers.

It's certainly why editors at every newspaper gather each day to discuss the decisions that need to be made. For example, here at The Daily Times, our editors gather at 4 p.m. daily to decide what will make the front page for the following day. We hear what's on the local story list, what stories are available on the AP wire, and what photos are available.

Although the senior editor on hand makes the final decisions, all of the top stories are discussed, and the only clear rule of thumb is that we put priority emphasis on local.

We try to select stories that meet a diversity of needs, for those interested in crime and breaking news, to those more interested in culture or oil and gas production. No shoe fits all. But the beauty of a newspaper in the first place is that each day's edition is loaded with variety, and no two days are the same when it comes to news.

That's a pretty good bargain for 50 cents or less a day.

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One role that any quality newspaper takes pride in doing is trying to serve as a community watchdog of public entities that should be accountable to the people. However, not everyone understands why the newspaper gets so involved, and often the newspaper itself is criticized.

Such was the case when The Daily Times first began its fight with the Farmington city government over public access to city documents. That has led to an expensive ongoing lawsuit yet to be resolved.

Likewise for when the newspaper first began publishing its investigative reports into the travel by hundreds of Navajo representatives believed to have used public money to attend a single education conference in Hawaii. That story has led to a federal investigation.

Both cases serve as an example of the newspaper being willing to fight for what it perceives as injustice on the part of government officials using taxpayer money, and both take aim at decision-makers who have few other challengers that can wage such a fight to assure accountability.

Both cases also serve as examples of how the newspaper is attacked for taking such an important role.

Although an overwhelming majority of Navajo readers who responded to the Hawaii-travel story did so in support and appreciation of the newspaper for helping them bring attention to long-suspected government waste, a few called the newspaper racist and accused it of never publishing anything good about the Navajo. This despite almost daily feature stories about local Navajo residents involved in positive news, from filmmaking to fashion designers.

Simply put, we're an equal-opportunity watchdog. We chase after the Navajo government with just as much interest as we do the Farmington city government, and we take our own shots just the same.

One reader, as a second example, is critical of us for our relentless role in trying to bring openness to the city's administration.

"What makes you so holier than thou?'" he asked. "What's next in your fight for transparency? Transparent glass doors in the restrooms?"

Humility is not our problem. Getting humbled at a newspaper comes real fast when we see an embarrassing headline bust on the front page for all to see, or mistakes admitted in our "corrections" listing when we confess our wrongs. The fact is, we feel we get humbled far more than those we report about in our stories, and we understand that and try to learn.

Ditto for having the audacity to write our opinions or sometimes endorsements on the editorial page. Do we expect every reader to vote for a candidate if we so boldly endorse one? Hardly. Our job on that page is to give the opinion we deliberate and decide upon, and then use it to evoke interest and participation in civic citizenship. No one — no one — here is arrogant enough to feel we are always right and that everyone should agree with us.

But no one here wants to go the easy route, either, and play the role of the pacifist who never takes a stand for something deemed worthy or necessary of a fight. You don't want your newspaper, or its editor, to be a coward. Not fighting the fight for perceived injustice is the greatest of sins for a newspaper committed to its community.

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And then there are letters like this one:

"Dear Mr. Turner,

"Why is it that the Daily Times is a PR organ for Piedra Vista High School at the expense of coverage of the county's seven other, equally deserving high schools? The latest example is the front page banner story about Webb Chevrolet's award to the PV teachers. We find it reprehensible that you publicize a PR stunt by the auto dealership to single out the teachers of a particular school simply because of their school's test scores. What your newspaper and Webb Chevrolet have done is a slight to all the teachers in the county's seven high schools. Those teachers are just as diligent and work just as hard as those at Piedra Vista, but work with a student population that cannot or will not produce acceptable scores in a testing system whose accuracy in determining a school's academic success is questionable at best.

"Our children are the products of an excellent education at Farmington High School. Both have made the dean's lists at their individual colleges, and one has graduated cum laude from his university.

"In any responsible newspaper, the story would have been buried in the business briefs section. Could it be that Webb Chevrolet is such a big advertiser that it received the play it did?

"Sincerely,

"George H and Joyce K Johnston"

This was my reply:

"Mr. Johnston,

"Perhaps you have not noticed, but we run as often as we can positive stories on Page 1 to balance the many that tend to get labeled as negative stories.' We enjoy trying to achieve such balance, because we enjoy hero stories and stories of good deeds and profile stories about local people.

"Regarding the balance of attention we give to schools, I don't think you would find everyone at PVHS in complete agreement with you. Perhaps you forget that the school's most recent string of headlines was about a story of a far different nature, involving the formation of a Gay-Straight Alliance Club. PV parents at the time wanted to know why we were punishing the school for simply adhering to a policy set for the entire district.

"We also go to great lengths to provide parity on the sports pages, i.e. Thursday's Sports front (FHS wrestling story). Despite sometimes having a literal count to show balance, readers from respective schools always have their opinion of who seems favored and who seems slighted. Yet, we do the best we can to provide great balance of not only all the schools, but of boys and girls sports as well. It's not a perfect system, but it most certainly is one loaded with local emphasis, and one done by a very small staff.

"Regarding your comment about Webb being an advertiser, the news department is managed and operated completely separate from the advertising department, and it has absolutely no bearing on our newsroom decisions for stories such as this. We simply saw two good corporate citizenship deeds being done, and on this occasion, we decided to play it a bit bigger. We don't run them all on Page 1, but the reward given to teachers and the amount of the ConocoPhillips gifts, all toward education, seemed like good stories to balance the one on the page about eight people slain in a mall. I'm sorry you disagree."

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Mr. Johnson is right about one thing. Most such gifts go reported inside on the business page, and that is in part because of the perception he pointed out with his suggestion that advertising influenced our newsroom, which it most certainly did not.

We most often try to avoid being used to provide free publicity for businesses because our industry has learned the hard way, over the years, that smart business people most certainly would take advantage of it if we did. I encountered one example of this years ago when a department store wanted to donate dozens of free turkeys to the poor for Thanksgiving.

We said no, it won't go on the front page, and the store manager called off the whole thing because it didn't get the attention he wanted. The poor went without the promised turkeys.

Except for one big one in town.

Webb Chevrolet did a nice thing by sponsoring the local basketball tournaments at other schools and by giving gifts to the teachers at PVHS. It has given many gifts, to many schools, over the years. You don't see any letters on this page from other schools themselves who are complaining, and certainly not from longtime recipient FHS.

Other companies give gifts and don't make the front page, and they, like Webb, give because they are good corporate citizens, not for selfish attention. That's one big reason this is such a great community.

Should Webb and the newspaper, however, get punished because this particular story did make the front page? Why does such holiday spirit deserve to be bottled up like that for the sake of the jealous?

Do all of our local schools deserve equal attention? Yes and no. If a school earns special recognition, we are not going to punish it just because we feel someone like Mr. Johnston is holding us to a quota. But we do agree they all deserve fairness, and fairness dictates we highlight any school's accomplishments. That we try to do.

It is also why we dedicate a full page each Monday to education.

We fully realize, every day, that we are not perfect. But remember: The parents who work for this newspaper represent every school district, and perhaps every school, in our readership area, be it the editor or your newspaper carrier. That means, we care about them all. Our kids go there, too, and our employment base is as diverse as our readership.

The Daily Times isn't just your newspaper. It is one of your community's major employers, and many people count on us for far more than the daily news.

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OK, so you may love us or you may just tolerate us, but do you enjoy reading about the behind-the-scenes production of your community newspaper?

Coming soon will be a new blog on our Web site, which will be translated to a column in print for our non-computer readers, in which yours truly will dialogue on a more frequent and informal basis with readers who pose questions to the editor.

It won't take the place of the letters to the editor, which are meant to be more about community issues and will continue to appear in our print edition first. Instead, the blog is intended to answer questions or share insight about the newspaper itself.

The blog/column will be driven by reader-posed questions or comments.

Thanks for reading.

Troy Turner is the editor of The Daily Times. He can be contacted at P.O. Box 450, Farmington, N.M. 87499; or at ttuner@daily-times.com.