Journalists are, by and large, a skeptical lot. The profession’s mantra has always been, “If your mother tells you she loves you, check it out.” And few things ring alarm bells for a journalist like a Top 10 list. Questions abound: Who set the list? What were their criteria? What were their biases? Did they collaborate or were they unilateral in the decision making?
When it comes to deciding the top 10 stories of the year, we try to make an imperfect process as democratic as possible. The eight journalists on the Transcript-Bulletin’s editorial staff gather around a conference table and offer up ideas, one by one, to create a master list. This year’s had 25 stories on it. Then the debate begins, usually with arguments against stories to whittle down the list. Once we have a short list of 12 to 15 stories, we debate more — this time with people often arguing for specific stories. Then we vote. Each vote is weighted according to where the person thinks the story should be ranked on the final list. Once we add up the scores, we discuss the list as a whole and sometimes make adjustments in rank based upon majority consensus.
The final results of that process comprise today’s paper. What you don’t see, however, are the stories that didn’t make the Top 10. Discussing those invites another round of second-guessing — by both readers and our staff.
For example, I thought Danica Olsen becoming the first Miss Utah ever from Tooele County was worthy of inclusion, but the story didn’t make it through the final vote. Some staff members felt the title was no bigger a deal than the awards won by many other remarkable young people in the county. I also argued against including our No. 7 story, feeling that the spring floods were essentially a non-event despite all the preparations undertaken. I was outvoted on that one too, with others arguing that the preparations themselves constituted significant news.
Some stories didn’t make the list because of timing. For example, while everyone agreed that securing funding for the new Tooele Applied Technology College from the Legislature was significant, the consensus was that the actual completion of the college would be more newsworthy. Rulon Harper’s successful rezone of property near the Stockton Bar was another story deemed important, but a relatively small drop in the bucket of a much deeper narrative about the future of the bar.
A few grisly crime stories also failed to make the cut. The allegedly premeditated murder of a high school girl in Wendover by her former classmates was vetoed because although evidence in the crime was found in Tooele County, the murder itself took place in Nevada and we covered the story remotely by phone. Tooele County Attorney Doug Hogan’s random discovery of a dead body in the desert didn’t make the list because so much remains unknown about the victim and the circumstances of his death.
Soelberg’s Market opening a second store more than a century after the business started in Grantsville also seemed like a big story, especially when you consider the grocery store will be Stansbury Park’s first — a major step in the community’s development. The Tooele County School District’s decision to shut out the Junior Jazz basketball program — one of the largest youth recreation programs in the county — for failure to pay debts also seemed worthy of inclusion. Ditto for a story on one of the biggest embezzlement cases in recent memory when Tammie Bankhead was convicted of stealing $82,000 from her company while working at Dugway Proving Ground. Still, none of those stories made the final Top 10.
In the end, I think the Top 10 list represents our collective feeling that the stories should have a broad impact on a large number of people and be consequential beyond the moment in which they occurred.
Like I said, it’s an imperfect process. Some of you will doubtless feel that some of the stories above should have made the Top 10. Others will feel that we got the stories right but the order wrong. I’d appreciate hearing all those thoughts. If nothing else, the list is a magnet for debate and a reminder of how much news has been made in Tooele County over the past year.