Thursday, September 13, 2007

Apparently, apology not accepted

About two months ago, the local paper stopped printing my columns, without a word of explanation, without a warning... nothing. zip. nada. bubkes. After several e-mail exchanges, I finally wheedled out of him this explanation:
I have not used your column after a few readers brought your blog to my attention.
Am I the best editor in the world? No, far from it, but I have done a couple of redesigns to the DRA, increased the local story count by more than 60 percent, and before we purchased the Register Mail, we were beating them to the punch on big stories 80-85 percent of the time.
We still make mistakes. There are times when the articles are written in a hurry, and I have a newstaff of three, myself included.
I must have been doing something right. Before we purchased those papers, I received job offers from both the Galesburg and Peoria papers.
It is hard enough to beat down old reputations and perceptions without people who are supposed to be part of the team hitting us with friendly fire, for a lack of better words.

I didn't really have the heart to remind him, but, as a long-unpaid "guest columnist", I'm not really part of his team, now, am I? No, instead, I am simply a member of the community, one with high hopes (too high? Prithee not!) that said community will someday have a newspaper good enough to read daily.

I did, however, search my blogs to see precisely what might have offended him. I even told him I held no personal animus (end quote), and then he pointed out that I did get personal... it was, it seems, the Cracker-Jack reference.

I don't think he noticed that it was not about him. It was about the work he did.

Well, this week, he decided to go half-public, with directionless whine, in his editorial, which is not available online, so I will excerpt a relevant bit... the first two grafs will do nicely:

Two things a community cannot afford to lose is [sic] its school and its newspaper, yet those are the two entitles [sic] some residents seem to enjoy criticizing.

I'm not talking about construc-tive criticism, but mean-spirited, angry criticism.

He gives the standard excuses for his problems getting a good newspaper together -- short budget, short staff -- and then goes on to say that any mistakes are not malicious or intentional, that a small town needs its newspaper because where else would they get their information? and gee, whiz, we have increased local/regional coverage 70+% over the past year.

Wow. Color me impressed. After all, Monmouth's newspaper has seen a 70% increase in coverage of regional news, mostly because they've started running bunches of news from Macomb (where our current editor cut his journalistic baby teeth, and those teeth seem to still be coming in, if he's kvetching about his critics being mean).

Mind you, I'm not complaining. In a town where seemingly nothing happens, news is news, and it doesn't matter if the majority of events happen forty-five minutes' drive down the corn-lined highway.

And he's right when he says that a small-town paper is the only way we can hear the local school sports scores and local-league softball reports (if the paper were to go under, the other resources would like as not pick up the slack for sheer necessity), obits (maybe, check out the neighboring town's paper's obits online?), police reports, etc. Without a local paper, we'd be dependent upon the Chamber of Commerce to maintain a community calendar online and posted (billboard or old-fashioned bulletin-board style) within various locations in the town. We'd be back where we were last year, reading about Monmouth College events where we still usually read them, today.

A daily print newspaper can no longer pretend it will always be first with the most. It's (by all known laws of physics) limited in both time and space. All it has left is trustworthiness, superior to that of the super-fast internet and electronic gossip system (cellular phones with cameras). Eventually, print medium is going to have to prove it is (a) more accurate and (b) more cost-effective, in the long run, than electronic media, or it will find itself tossed out on its inky bottom.

Mistakes happen. But needless mistakes which happen daily -- such as misspelled words in headlines (have you never heard of SpellCheck?), murky photo images,* abysmally poor grammar, convoluted, uninformative articles,** and other failures to be a good editor -- indicate to readers not a lack of time, but a demonstration of a certain lack of seriousness about the job.

And if your readers don't take you seriously, why on earth would they want to spend a hundred dollars per year -- or more -- to have your silliness delivered to their doors? And, if you lose readers, don't you lose advertising revenues, as well? And when you lose both, eventually we lose a paper. Everybody loses.

If harsh criticism of an editor's work, including derisive (yet clean and appropriate for a preschool playground) language, is all it takes to hurt that editor's feelings so badly that he refuses to print relatively popular free local material, the editor may wish to take a closer look at his own priorities. And, if his ego is the highest thing on his list, then his employers may want to reevaluate their choice of hire.

Personally, I'm outrageously flattered that my words had such an impact on somebody in a position of such sway. I usually assume that most people take me for what I am -- a loudmouthed, blowhard broad with a desire to occasionally inform as I entertain folks. That I could utterly crush somebody's ego so easily must mean I'm very powerful indeed.†

*Photoshop can fix that in under a minute, for if you are too busy to really look at your own work. Up on the menu bar on a Mac is the word "Enhance." Click on that for the drop-down menu, click on "adjust lighting" select lighting/shadows, and let it do the work for you -- or you can go for the automatic options, or just play with it for a few minutes, and you can tweak it to just the way you want it to show up... but print it out before you run it to the big presses, to see if it will translate from monitor to paper.
Take a lesson from Wired Magazine's first six issues, and understand that what works with pretty lights on a screen doesn't always work on flat paper with opaque inks. Unless you have years of practice crossing back and forth between media, I wouldn't advise just winging it too often, or the newspaper's reputation will continue to sink.

KISS -- Keep It Simple, Stupid -- means use the five "W"s right from the beginning, and if you have time after that, add some filler and style. It can make even an idiot like me look like a competent professional. I know. I've done it before.

† The dog says, "They feed me and shelter me and love me... they must be gods!" The cat says, "They feed me and shelter me and love me... I must be a god!" I take my lesson from the cat.

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