Many thanks to West Virginia journalist Nerissa Young, who swung by the Charleston Daily Mail this week to lead a discussion on freedom of information.
Nerissa is a former reporter at the Register-Herald in Beckley and has taught at Shepherd University, Marshall University and now at Ohio University. She’s also the author of “Mass Communications Law in West Virginia,” which was the hook for what she talked to the Daily Mail news reporters about.
Her discussion provided helpful advice but was equal parts pep talk, reminding reporters that they represent citizens with an interest and a stake in knowing what their government is doing.
It was a good talk, and if you have an interest in open government then be sure to check out Nerissa’s book.
As in any line of work, journalism is susceptible to mistakes. Unlike many, however, ours can happen on the front page where everyone can see it.
On Friday, I was very proud to see our 1A centerpiece celebrating the 45th anniversary of the Apollo moon landing.
It was lovely and had everything — an Apollo astronaut and the American flag on the surface of the moon. But, Charleston, we had a problem.
There was also a lunar rover in the picture. This was not an image from the historic 1969 Apollo 11 moon landing; this was James P. Irwin from the Apollo 15 mission in 1971.
In my position as managing editor, I also wear the hats of design editor and acting graphics editor, the latter of which means I’m mostly responsible for garnering file images for the publication.
We had planned earlier in the week to do a special front for Friday, so I quickly gathered photos from the Associated Press archives for our designer to work with.
Unfortunately, in my search, the image of Irwin was in the same batch of results as the iconic picture of Buzz Aldrin. In my hurry to grab good art, I failed to read all the captions and lumped them all together.
That was my first mistake.
The second mistake came when looking at the proof. I am now one of only a handful of people on staff old enough to remember the Apollo program. I knew the lunar rover did not go up on the first landing, but in my focus on the astronaut, the flag and the lunar module, I didn’t notice the second vehicle that shouldn’t have been there in ’69.
And now it’s part of the permanent record — with a correction forthcoming, of course.
If we’re lucky, aside from the chiding of an eagle-eyed readership, that’s the worst fallout of our mistakes. (The worst usually involves lawyers.) The only salve we can apply is that we get another chance to do a good paper with our next edition and that we will try harder to be more careful in the future.
(Hat tip goes out to reader Patrick Baker who pointed out the error.)
Do you put ‘Family Circus’ on your fridge? Do you love or hate ‘Pearls Before Swine’? Don’t feel complete without the Jumble?
About once a year we take a look at our newspaper syndicated features lineup. Usually that’s prompted by proposed rate increases by the syndicates so we’re assessing what still seems worth the price.
Often, though, we’re just guessing at what’s resonating with readers.
And before I go any farther, here’s a universal truth: different people like different things. In other words, you’re never gonna please everyone.
Still, we’d like to know more about what our readers like, so we invited them to tell us.
In print editions, which is where the comics and puzzles run (sorry Internet readers), we’ve been printing a survey: “Like it a lot,” “It’s OK,” “Hate it” and “Would not notice if it were gone” for each of our current syndicated offerings.
This is not exactly a popular vote. It’s not a “vote one off the island” kind of thing. But I’m interested in seeing any trends. I’m probably most interested in how people reply to “It’s OK” and “Would not notice if it were gone” — those features that just don’t move the needle either way.
It’s just been a few days, but responses have been flowing in steadily.
One thing I’ve learned is that people aren’t shy about saying they miss Beetle Bailey, which was cut late last year because of its high price and advancing age. “Miss Beetle Bailey comic,” commented a retiree from Charleston. Another 69-year-old retiree also pleaded, “Bring back Beetle Bailey.” “What happened to Beetle Bailey??” another asked.
Age has been one factor in written responses, with some older readers saying they are not fans of some of the newer offerings.
“How about some classic Lil Abner or other old comics for your older adult readers instead of this childish jibberish?” suggested an 83-year-old respondent.
“Comics aren’t funny any more except Family Circus,” commented a 63-year-old.
“I am 75 and the new comics do not make sense to me,” a reader commented.
Another reader expressed appreciation for puzzles.
“Crossword and Jumble help me to stay mentally active,” wrote a 77-year-old Campbell’s Creek resident.
Keep ‘em coming and we’ll let you know what more people have to say.
This is Nanya Friend, former editor and publisher of the Daily Mail, who announced her retirement about this time last year.
Hers was one of a slew of retirements we experienced in 2013 – George Hohmann, business editor; Hanna Maurice, editorial page editor; Cheryl Caswell, court reporter; and Monica Orosz, features editor.
Their combined years of newsroom experience tallied well over a century and left those who remained to carry on wondering how we were going to make up for the loss of so much institutional and professional knowledge.
Luckily, none of them retired away from the area. And even more so, they’re still helping us.
From supplying emergency food supplies at the start of the winter water crisis to leaving stores of over-the-counter medications — antacids, pain relievers and such — they’ve continued to keep the newsroom fortified and fit. (George even continues to employ his ace reporting skills as a freelancer covering local city council meetings for us.)
Nanya was kind enough to share with our copy editors her time and wisdom in a headline writing seminar this Sunday. She passed along not only tips for writing good headlines, but her own opinions on what works and what doesn’t and why. (As I later told our copydesk staffers who hadn’t worked with her, “Now you know why we’re the way we are.”)
I told her afterward that she and our former managing editor, the late, great Bob Kelly, cast long shadows in our office and that we often wonder to ourselves what they would do in certain situations.
Truth be told, as the latest occupant of Bob’s office, I still talk to him, bemoaning the state of the world and the industry and asking for clues to life’s puzzles.
But I’m glad to know that the rest of our predecessors are still just a phone call, email or text message away for advice and, in the case of this weekend, real, practical lessons.
While it’s not in the direct, daily contact we enjoyed while they still worked with us, we continue to learn from them in the hopes of carrying on the legacy of excellence that they left us.
And sometimes your batting average isn’t even as high as any of those options.
That seemed to be the case this week when Charleston’s mayor shaved his mustache and we wrote a story and put it on page 1.
This was not a popular decision in all quarters.
No…no…no. I didn’t just see a journalistic outfit do a story on a public official’s shave, right?
— Steven Allen Adams (@stevenadamswv) June 17, 2014
Mayor sells a car, gets a story in the paper. Mayor shaves his mustache, another story. Great work, @charleywest!
— Todd Gunter (@toddgunter) June 17, 2014
Well, no, the mayor’s shave wasn’t “news” in the traditional sense. The editors who OKd the story and then picked it for page 1, including me, never even thought of it that way.
What we did think was it was interesting (and I know many of you disagree even with that) as well as culturally significant for our city. Danny Jones is a three-term mayor. He has had that mustache for 39 years. Danny’s face — and the mustache — are/were the face of our city when there’s a ribbon cutting or a groundbreaking or a big convention.
Beyond that, I thought the story was one other men would relate to. Most men like me settle into a look for a lifetime. Got a hairstyle you’re comfortable with? Comb it that way for the rest of your life. Put on your blue or white shirt and your khaki pants or navy blazer and off you go. The mayor seemed to have settled into a lifetime relationship with his mustache and on Tuesday he abruptly broke it.
But Mayor Jones is also a lightning rod, also known as a “Hey Mabel, I can hardly tolerate that guy,” and that’s what was also at work in some people’s reactions. He hasn’t been popular for the $1 and now $2 user fee the city has instituted. Some people are mad about his position on guns in the city, and then last week the Republican mayor came out in favor of the Democratic candidate for Congress.
A lot of people are mad at the mayor’s face whether his upper lip is coiffed or bald.
Then there’s news judgment. Do you have any? Apparently we could use it.
We do four stories on the front page every day. There are 260 Monday through Friday Charleston Daily Mails a year. So, that’s 1,040 front page stories in a year.
Still, that’s precious landscape. Not everything makes the front page.
People think we should take it seriously, and I agree.
Nevertheless, I’ve always liked newspapers because they’re a buffet. Interested in one article? Read it to the end. Don’t like another? Skip it.
There was a fascinating article a few months ago about what would happen if readers were allowed to choose the front page articles of major papers. It was called “People powered front pages rock.” In other words, front pages designed around what were actually the most popular articles.
Would the readers always choose the SERIOUS stories? Uh, not so much.
For example, lead “people powered” story in The Washington Post on the day selected? “Four lion cubs born this week at National Zoo.”
The actual front page in the Post on that day: “Putin defends Ukraine stance, cites lawlessness.”
That’s not to say people don’t like smart, deep stories. It’s just that sometimes they like their veggies AND their dessert. I know I do.
That reminds me of an article in The Atlantic online this week: “Why Audiences Hate Hard News and Love Pretending Otherwise.”
Here’s a summary:
Ask audiences what they want, and they’ll tell you vegetables. Watch them quietly, and they’ll mostly eat candy.
Besides the mayor’s mustache story that day, we gave readers three other front page stories, mostly on the serious side: One about the local water system being declared free of the chemical MCHM after 300,000 of us had our drinking water contaminated earlier this year, another about the Benghazi terror attack suspect being seized and a news feature about Marshall University’s renovated Arts Center revitalizing downtown Huntington.
Were those the four most popular stories that day as measured by online readers?
A story about a former candidate for Kanawha County Commission getting arrested for felony retaliation on a police officer after getting in a scuffle with State Police at age 69 was our number one story that day with more than 4,000 views. A story about a mama cat who died after saving her six kittens by carrying them one-by-one to safety from a fire was No. 2 with almost 2,500 views.
Next was a serious news story saying West Virginia could lose millions in federal Medicaid funding if it doesn’t stop sending payments to health care providers facing credible fraud claims. That got about 1,800 views.
And fourth was the Marshall arts center story with a little more than a thousand views.
So if reader clicks had determined the 1A lineup, it would have been: candidate in trouble with the cops, hero mama cat, Medicaid fraud and Marshall arts.
In fifth place and just out of the running?
The mayor, with 917 views.
The mayor’s mustache would have missed the cut.
There comes a time when you must set aside your own needs for the good of the team. And you can only hope that you can answer that call when it comes. Yesterday was my time.
This week’s piece focused on area family-style restaurants and their takes on this deep-fried delicacy. (And here we observe a moment of silence for the Kanawha City’s late, lamented Southern Kitchen and as well as South Charleston’s Farm Table. Amen.)
Zack found two local eateries that still flour their own chickens and fry them on the premises — The Grill on Charleston’s West Side and Harding’s Family Restaurant in Mink Shoals.
Owing to the The Grill’s semi-regular fried chicken availability — they only serve every other Friday, including this one, so you’re in luck this week — he hoped to arrange a photo opportunity at Harding’s.
Well, circumstances being what they are, the photo shoot fell through and the story was going to run minus any illustration of fried chicken.
“How can we run story about golden, delicious, family-style fried chicken without a picture of golden, delicious, family-style fried chicken? This cannot stand,” I thought to myself. “This. Cannot. Stand.”
So I got on the horn and called Harding’s and ordered takeout. Leg and thigh. Mashed potatoes. Green beans. Dinner roll. Eight bucks.
I took a shot of the platter with my iPhone in the rays of the setting sun in the back of my Jeep. Being late in the day, the shadows were already too deep, so I shot it again in the newsroom for the quick and dirty shot you see above.
As I am not a professional photographer, I can’t say I did the meal justice, but I hope I made it at least look appetizing.
In real-life, just to let you know, even as takeout it was mighty appetizing. And in keeping with the lessons of my first grade teacher, Sister Doris, I didn’t want this food to go to waste, so I took one for the team and selflessly disposed of it.
It was delicious.
(In the name of journalistic integrity, of course, I should probably also head out to The Grill this Friday — just for comparison’s sake.)
Hello loyal readers, we could use your help.
A few months back, we changed our URL from www.dailymail.com to www.charlestondailymail.com
At the moment, we’re thinking about Yahoo’s news feed.
We’ve been missing from the feed since switching the URL. We’ve filled out their news feed suggestion form a few times but haven’t gotten any action.
So now we’re up for a vote. It can’t hurt, right?
If you want to give us a hand, all you have to do is go here:
There will be a little gray box on the left that says “Vote.” That’s what you click.
Thanks in advance!
I inherited a great big bookshelf along one wall of my office. Naturally, it is filled with books — very few of them mine.
Sometimes I look at the books with a degree of puzzlement. I wonder whose they were, what meaning was gained from them and if any might be useful to me. I have old bound editions of the Congressional Quarterly Almanac, a Treasury of American Humor, a whole bunch of West Virginia Blue Books, a biography of Donald Regan and “The Joys of Jargon.”
The book that really catches my eye, though, is “Editors and Stress.”
That’s probably because there are not one but two editions of that book on the shelves.
Still newsroom stress is for real, and I have no doubt it was for real then, too.
The cover of the book shows a guy in a suit, running with a briefcase, not unlike O.J. Simpson in those old Hertz rental car commercials (a reference you would get in 1983.)
I guess he was running to or from a big story. These days he would have his smartphone in his hand.
The book was an outgrowth of a study of editors and stress that began in 1979.
I kid about Twitter and text alerts, but some of what the book says rings true no matter the era. A common theme was change and disruption that could make editors feel vulnerable.
Recent studies suggest that stress may not always be bad, that many of the things about newspaper work that we tend to think of as highly stressful may also be part of the challenge we love in our jobs. For some, stress can produce high levels of achievement and a high degree of satisfaction with few negative physical or emotional effects.
An editor who is in control of the job, who has a sense of purpose, who does not feel threatened and who enjoys the power and responsibility he or she holds is not likely to be hurt by stress. But an editor who believes his or her decisions are useless, who lacks authority and who feels overwhelmed by the job may suffer from stress.
The coming of the computer and mounting pressure on the bottom line were already adding up as stress factors by 1983.
It’s the pressure to keep ahead of the changes, to learn enough about them to make the right decisions and to guide the staff in adapting to a new way of getting out the paper.
Newspapers are one of the many industries affected by the marvels of the computer, but that makes the experience no less intense. Nor does it diminish the responsibility of the industry’s leaders to understand the consequences of the change and help its people to cope.
Well, good luck editors of 1983. And I hate to tell you this, but the stress has just begun.