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E-Mailbag: Your "Assignment," Should You Choose To Accept …

We'll find out tonight which assignment America has given to correspondent Steve Hartman for the week on tonight's "Evening News." Viewers and Web readers were invited to vote for one of three stories for Hartman to pursue this week and report on for Friday's broadcast. The three offered up for the initial week of the feature were, as relayed by Hartman on last Friday's show:
  • "Do-it-yourself funerals. Forget the box and circumstance. More and more families are choosing to dig the hole themselves and drop their loved one in alfresco. I'd find out what that is all about, if you want."
  • "Or I could check out the jerk-o-meter. It's a brand-new gizmo developed at MIT. Apparently you hook it up to your telephone and it tells you if you're being a jerk or not. We'll see."
  • "Or finally, you could send me to the smallest town in America, Monowi, Nebraska, population: one bizarre old lady who actually holds town meetings with herself."

    The voting was opened up on CBSNews.com and it closed this afternoon. We'll have to wait until tonight's "Evening News" to learn which story received the most votes. But the early reactions we've been getting on PE are not overwhelmingly positive. You can read some of the posted comments from last week here, and we got some e-mails on the feature that mostly echoed that sentiment.

    One reader wrote, "I was initially intrigued and hoping that this was a good thing. But then I see the choices. Why even bother? Isn't there enough fluff around?" Another weighed in with this: "When you show your results, I'm sure they will be big percentages for the winner but you will not convey the fact that nobody really cares about these ridiculous choices." Still another asked, "What's next a hard hitting expose of 1+1=2?" Well, you get the idea.

    What's worth noting, however, is the relatively small number of those types of complaints compared to number of folks who actually participated in the voting. While not releasing actual numbers, Mike Sims, director of news and operations at CBSNews.com, says that thousands voted while we received a dozen or so complaints at PE. That might say as much about us as anything else, but it certainly exposes a larger point, namely, that there is an appetite for this among the audience.

    We pointed out last week that some see features like this as a good start toward opening the news up to the audience. And while PE can be among those at the very top of the Mount Sanctimonious in wanting to see more "serious" journalism, consider this: If a story is truly important – war, economy, health care, etc., wouldn't you expect it to be covered in the first place, not offered up as part of a vote where two other important stories are then left out? Whether you see "features" like the "jerk-o-meter" (my guess for the winner) as belonging to a nightly newscast or not is up to you. But if there is an audience for it and that audience is participating in some way, that can't be all bad.