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.
Author: Brad McElhinny is editor and publisher of The Charleston Daily Mail. I’m a Parkersburg native and a Marshall graduate. I live in Charleston with my wife — we’ll call her “Karen” — my two little girls, an easily excitable terrier, an aging obese cat and, now, a kitten named “Sweetie.” Read more from this author