Archive for the ‘The Evening News’ Category

Newspapers not quite Humvees yet

Wednesday, April 11th, 2012

Just how bad off is the newspaper industry?

David Carr, media writer for the New York Times, characterized newspapers as like used Humvees – “a hulking beast that has lost relevance in a changed landscape.”

In his usual eloquent prose, Carr described the decline of the industry, which he notes is about half the size as seven years ago.

He didn’t say whether he was referring to revenue, profits, or number of employees, but all would be about right.

In a fascinating development, the editor of the Boston Globe – which is owned by the New York Times – responded with a letter to the editor, which was printed in the Times. How often does that happen?

Marty Baron took issue with Carr’s metaphor. Newspapers may be struggling financially, he said, but they are still important to their communities and to the nation.

“Local and regional newspapers may have lost revenue, but they haven’t lost relevance,” he wrote.

As evidence, Baron offered a list of stories in newspapers across America that had made a difference – from The Patriot-News in Pennsylvania exposing the child sex abuse scandal at Penn State to The Sarasota Herald-Tribune finding Florida law enforcement officers were allowed to stay on the job despite stealing from crime victims.

Baron is right on. From national companies like the NY Times and Wall Street Journal down to community dailies like The Monroe Evening News, newspapers remain almost as relevant as a decade ago.

They may have shrunk in size – I cringe sometimes when I pick up the Evening News and feel more air that paper between my hands.

They may have shrunk in staff – by my count the Monroe daily has about two-thirds of its news staff from seven years ago when I arrived in the newsroom.

But the Evening News – just like all those other papers mentioned by Baron – remains an important mainstay of life in Monroe County. It still plays the same invaluable roles.

It keeps the populace informed – not only about who is running for school board, but also which bridge will be closed for construction and who won the Bedford-Monroe soccer game.

It still holds elected officials accountable. There’s not a public official in the county who doesn’t know the Evening News is there, fulfilling the time-honored watchdog role.

And it still ties the community together. It’s where Monroe discusses its problems and celebrates its successes. It’s where you go if you want to be an informed, responsible citizen, or if you just want to know how a former local athlete is doing on his college team.

No one wants to imagine a future without it. It doesn’t matter whether it’s mostly online, with a smaller print version.

As long as it’s there, to keep us informed, and to keep a watch on public life.

Yes, it’s smaller. But it’s still very important.

The credit for that goes largely to those journalists who are left behind, still fighting the good fight. 

There may be fewer of them, but they’re working hard to continue to be valuable to their readers – whether at the Boston Globe or the Monroe Evening News. 

They’re doing more with less, somehow maintaining that importance, that relevance, that is so vital to community life.

My hat’s off to them.

A second Nevaeh thought

Thursday, June 4th, 2009

Some afterthoughts on coverage of the Nevaeh Buchanan story.

There’s more to evaluating news coverage than timeliness. Accuracy, relevance, usefulness, balance and appropriate presentation all are important, too.

In my new role – as a college journalism professor, not a newspaper editor – commenting on the media goes with the territory. Before, my role was to explain and defend. Now it’s to analyze and evaluate.

As many people have mentioned on MonroeTalks.com, The Evening News’ coverage after a slow start has met most of those tests. I can’t say the same for some of the area TV stations.

It wouldn’t be fair to make a blanket statement about all of the television coverage, because I haven’t monitored it closely enough. Some has been very good. But some of the TV stations seemed to be more interested in exploiting the story for ratings than in presenting useful information.

They spent more of their precious on-air seconds promoting the story than reporting it. They focused more video on emotional responses than on facts. And they played rumors or minor sidebars like they were big breakthroughs, even when they knew they probably weren’t.

To be fair, that’s what TV does.  This criticism is valid for much of TV news coverage. They intensely promote because they’re in intense competition.  Given the choice, they’ll almost always push emotional video over boring facts. And they’re desperate for anything new – so they grab at rumors just to make it appear they have a hot breakthrough.  

As consumers of news, we just need to understand that about TV news, whether local or national.

Yes, monroenews.com and The Evening News  lost out to other media in this story when it comes to timeliness. The Evening News, as a news organization, usually errs on the side of being careful and cautious, not sensational.  That puts it at a disadvantage when covering a big story.

But in the long run, I think that’s a good thing. As media converge and the digital news world grows,  consumers will have more sources of news than they can imagine. I think people eventually will gravitate to the media outlets they feel they can trust.

The Evening News will get faster as it learns the ropes of the digital world. I hope there is never a next time for this kind of story. But next time Evening News reporters are faced with a big, breaking story, they’ll respond more quickly.

I hope they keep their careful approach to reporting facts, debunking rumors and maintain balance and proportion in presenting the news.

Nevaeh story highlights new media world

Monday, June 1st, 2009

The tragic disappearance of Nevaeh Buchanan brings Monroe and its small-town newspaper face-to-face with two dramatic media trends.

One, the emergence of social media as a force in news coverage, and two, how a “big story” engulfs a community like never before.

By now it has been well documented on local talk forums that the Monroe Evening News and monroenews.com were slow to react to the breaking Nevaeh story. The timing couldn’t have been worse for a community newspaper with a small staff – 6 p.m. on a Sunday night before a Monday holiday.

The Evening News published a morning paper on Memorial Day, so there was no reason for any reporters to be in the office Monday morning. The story broke on the Amber Alert Web site and was roaring along on MonroeTalks.com for hours before the first news story was posted on monroenews.com.

In my view, this is a fascinating glimpse into the future of news coverage in the digital era.

Gone is the day when news organizations are first to cover breaking news. The plane crash in the Hudson River this spring was first reported on Twitter by a bystander with a cell phone. As more and more people are linked to the world by a device they carry in a pocket, it stands to reason that first-hand reports of news events will come from onlookers before any media can arrive.

That’s one of the reasons The  Evening News created MonroeTalks.com. Remember, it started more than three years ago with the “Eyes and Ears” forum on monroenews.com. The idea was that readers could be the eyes and ears of the community, posting news of traffic snarls or severe weather or whatever else.

That evolved into MonroeTalks.com, which has been an award-winning example of a local news organization creating its own social network.

So it’s not necessarily a bad thing that the most robust discussion of the Nevaeh story has been on MonroeTalks.com. That’s why it was created.

And once news reporters at The Evening News got on top of the Nevaeh story, they’ve done an excellent job keeping readers posted on the latest news, creating a separate page on the Web site to organize the coverage, linking to other Web sources, blogging on the coverage and responding to comments on  MonroeTalks.com.

I’m sure this has been a tremendous opportunity for The Evening News staff to see the power of social networking and its role in news coverage.

When a big story hits a community, people used to wait around for the 6 p.m. news and the daily newspaper. Now they’re on their computers and smart  phones, joining the fray, sharing news (and rumors), offering opinions and  links to other news and social network sites. An entire community can be engulfed by the story in minutes.

One of the coolest features of this new world order for media is how well the traditional news media and the new social network together provide readers with a more complete picture. Staffers at The Evening News have reported every detail of the news that can be confirmed, as well as extensive coverage of the community response.  Meanwhile, MonroeTalks.com has been part of a rich, diverse network that inclues YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other sites, providing a wealth of information, links, rumors, prayers, opinions and diatribes.

Of  course, MonroeTalks.com and other social networking sites are the ultimate example of “reader beware.” You can’t assume anything is accurate.  Mixed with the good information and thoughtful opinions are awful posts that spread falsities, hate and fear. But that comes with the territory, and regular users of social media get pretty good at just ignoring the bad stuff.

Between the news coverage on monroenews.com and the print edition of The Evening News, and the discussion on MonroeTalks.com, the Nevaeh story has brought the Monroe community together in a way perhaps never seen before. Certainly, more people have never participated in a story.

As they get better at embracing social networking as part of their coverage, Evening News reporters will do more blogging, link more widely to other sources on the Internet, provide more video and other multi-media coverage, and send their online reports directly to mobile devices.

But all-in-all, other than the slow holiday response, this story has been a good look at the future of news coverage, and monroenews.com and MonroeTalks.com made a pretty solid team.

In the unlikely case that anyone is coming to this blog before they saw the Nevaeh story, here are links to the appropriate spots on MonroeTalks.com and monroenews.com.

Changing careers, changing emotions …

Sunday, August 17th, 2008

I suppose I should be experiencing profound emotions – something deep in the pit of my stomach.

Tomorrow I’m going to rise when the alarm beeps, shower, dress, eat breakfast and head off to work – but not at a newspaper.

It’s a strange feeling, but not a bad one. Not really what I expected – if one can really expect an emotion.

Me, in about 1975, as a reporter in Salem, Ore.With a few minor breaks in between jobs, I’ve worked for a newspaper of one sort or another since I graduated from college in 1974. That’s when I started my first full-time job as a reporter at the Statesman Journal (the photo at right was taken in about 1975, when I was covering the school board) in Salem, Ore.

During 24 years with the Gannett Co., which purchased the Statesman my second day on the job, and seven years with Thomson Newspapers, I’ve worked at 10 different newspapers in six states. I held every job from reporter to publisher, but most of the time I was an editor.

I did take one year off to get my master’s degree from Northwestern University, and two of my years with Thomson were in corporate jobs.

The Monroe Evening News, where I’ve worked as managing editor the last three years, was my 11th newspaper. Ironically, I started work on Aug. 15, 2005, and my last day was Aug. 15, 2008.

Thirty-four years as a newspaperman ended Friday.

Tomorrow I’ll cart a box full of books, files and miscellaneous stuff into my new office at Monroe County Community College. My new business card reads “Assistant Professor of Journalism and Humanities.”

I thought maybe I’d feel lost.

But the anticipation of new challenges seems to be pulling harder at my heart than that empty feeling.

And besides, I’m not really leaving newspapers behind. One of my jobs at MCCC is advising The Agora, the student newspaper.

I won’t be the editor. That job is in the capable hands of student Emily Chandonnet. But I’ll be close enough to the action to smell the ink.

And I can’t wait to get started.

What order should posts be in?

Friday, August 8th, 2008

It sounds so simple …

I know that’s a line from a James Taylor song, I just can’t remember which one. Help, someone?

What could be more simple than deciding the order of comments following a story on our Website.

Should reader comments start with the most recent, and go backwards, or start with the first comment, and continue chronologically?

On Monroenews.com, they start with the most recent. That way, if you’re checking back frequently, you don’t have to go hunting for the most recent comments. And if you’re coming in late and there already are many comments, it’s not that difficult to scroll to the end and read from the bottom up.

That’s the explanation I gave a recent caller who questioned why the comments are “upside down,” in his words.

And if it’s so simple, why is it just the opposite on MonroeTalks?

There, each thread starts with the original comment, and stays in chronological order. If you’re following a long thread, you can use the page links at the top of the thread to jump to the end, where the most recent comments are located.

And you can follow along even more easily by using the “Recent Posts” feature or the “Show unread posts since your last visit” feature. Both take you right to the most recent comments. If you need to catch up on what was said earlier on a thread, you can use the page links to move back and forth in the thread.

But back to the question. What do you think? Do we have it rightside up, or upside down? Should comments on stories be the same as on the forums – starting at the beginning and staying in order. Or should MonroeTalks be turned upside down, with most recent comments at the top?

It sounds so simple …

Moving on, but not out of news biz

Tuesday, August 5th, 2008

That was the headline on a column I wrote for Sunday’s Evening News.

Yes, I’m leaving The Evening News to teach full-time at Monroe County Community College.

I’m excited about the opportunity to pass on some of my experience in journalism to young (and not-so-young) students at the community college. My last day at the Evening News is Aug. 15.

But, as the headline suggests, I’m not really leaving The Evening News. I expect to maintain a close relationship with my friends and colleagues at the newspaper, working with them on a variety of projects.

And I’m keeping the News Notes blog – at least until I see how it goes.

It will be fun to comment on the media – including The Evening News – from the perspective of an outside expert (so to speak) instead of an insider.

And after a year of moderating MonroeTalks.com, I can now actually say what I want to on the talk forums, instead of carefully representing the newspaper’s position.

I’ll still be a journalist. Being impartial and looking at both sides is part of who I am after 30 years as a reporter and editor of one sort or another. But when I comment, it won’t be as an Evening News employee, but as a journalism professor – an independent viewpoint.  

 That could be a lot more fun.

Are folks leaving the newspaper for the Internet?

Monday, June 23rd, 2008

This, of course, has been the $64,000 question in the newspaper industry for the past decade.

At The Evening News, we have seen huge increases in traffic to our Web sites, and a small reduction in the number of subscribers to the print edition.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that a few people are dropping readership of the newspaper because they get their local news online, but not many.

The available evidence seems to suggest, rather, that most people have developed new habits for using media of all kinds. They read the newspaper for certain kinds of information and entertainment, go to the Internet for other information and entertainment, and turn on the television or radio or any of the  many other sources for other select reasons.

A new study of Ohio readers suggests that’s exactly what’s happening.

The research, conducted by Belden Associates for the Ohio Newspaper Association, found that use of newspapers by readers remains strong, and that use of newspaper Web sites is growing. Now more than 80 percent of all people surveyed used one or the other to get their local news in the last week – far more than any other sources, such as television or radio.

Perhaps more important, more people said they were turning to both the newspaper Web site and the local newspaper than a year ago, while the majority said they were spending less time watching television, listening to the radio or reading magazines.

None of this means that newspapers are the news source of the future. That’s probably not the case.

But it suggests that for the time being people still are using both the print and on-line versions of the newspaper.

Teacher’s story became news when district acted

Thursday, June 5th, 2008

When to publish a story during an ongoing police investigation can be one of the toughest decisions facing a news operation.

Such is the case with a story in Wednesday’s Monroe Evening News and on Monroenews.com about a Monroe High School teacher who is under investigation for inappropriate behavior with a student.

The story is receiving dozens of comments from readers on Monroenews.com, some of whom are critical of The Evening News for publishing the story when the teacher has not been charged with a crime.

They correctly point out that our policy is generally to wait until charges have been filed against someone before reporting their name.

We’ve known about the investigation for months. We know about lots of police investigations that never reach the point of a story in the newspaper. If the police decide there is nothing to an accusation, there’s no reason for a story.

Even when a suspect is arrested, we generally don’t name them until they’ve been to court and been arraigned, or until a prosecutor has signed a warrant.

Two things made this case different.

One, the suspect is in a position of public trust. This isn’t a private person – it’s a teacher, someone we’ve entrusted with childrens’ lives. There is a higher public interest in the case.

And, two, the case reached a point where concrete action was taken. The school district put the teacher on paid administrative leave. She was no longer teaching her classes. The case became public, in a sense, because of the district’s action.

From a practical standpoint, that meant that rumors began to fly even faster at the high school. If the local newspaper continued to ignore it, the rumors would just get wilder and wilder.

Ray Kisonas, the reporter who wrote the story, had to sort through a variety of allegations. The phone was ringing in the newsroom as plenty of people offered their suggestions.

The story that appeared in the paper was short, straightforward, giving accurate information. The teacher wasn’t led out of the school in handcuffs by armed police officers. The allegations had nothing to do with the earlier controversy involving volleyball players.

Other commenters on Monroenews.com wondered why the volleyball controversy was brought up at all. If they weren’t connected, why mention it?

In my view, The Evening News showed considerable restraint in not publishing a story about the accusations last winter, when parents of JV players accused the head coach of abusive behavior and favoritism.  We checked with school officials, who said the complaints were typical of parents who are upset with a coach. It’s not uncommon in youth sports, so we ignored it.

Ironically, the topic was covered on MonroeTalks.com, our social networking site. That’s different. The whole point of MonroeTalks.com is to give Monroe County residents a place to bring up any issue they want to talk about, and coaching of high school sports is a likely topic for conversation.

So, because of the MonroeTalks.com discussion, as well as the high school rumor mill, most people in the high school community were aware of the volleyball controversy. One of the first rumors to get started was that there was a connection between the two situations.

If Ray had left the volleyball controversy out of this week’s story, he would have done readers a disservice. It was important to include the information that they apparently are not connected.

I agree with those “posters” on Monroenews.com that if the teacher turns out to be innocent of the accusations, the story in the paper will have unfairly tarred her reputation. I think that’s very unfortunate.

But we wouldn’t have done her a favor by hiding the facts from the public, letting the rumor mill sweep through town unabated.

When the school district decided the situation was serious enough to take the teacher out of the classroom, we had to do our job and provide as many accurate details as we could.

Monitoring MonroeTalks.com

Wednesday, May 28th, 2008

A thread on MonroeTalks.com is asking questions about Monroe Publishing Co.’s policies on moderating the forum.

I enter this kind of discussion with reluctance. I don’t want to stifle debate, especially on a topic so close to my heart. I’ve spent more than 30 years defending the First Amendment and believe passionately in free speech.

But some questions have been asked that deserve answers, or at least as close as I can come.

I appreciate the story on Twitter that French Fry posted. It highlighted the similar issues that all discussion forums and social networking sites deal with. How much to moderate is a challenge.

Too little and you lose your forum to people on the fringes. Mainstream folks don’t feel comfortable and leave. Too much and you lose virtually everyone, because who wants Big Brother looking over their shoulder.

We try to moderate as lightly as possible. Weeks go by without any posts being deleted or any users being admonished. I don’t keep records, but my sense is that we average about one incident a month that requires intervention. And sometimes that’s just a minor change, like removing a phone number or e-mail address from a post.

I’ve been asked to talk at national and regional conferences about how we manage MonroeTalks.com because it’s somewhat unique in the country. We’ve been able to create an online community that is more active and more responsible than most.

I really don’t know why we’ve been successful – luck is certainly one possibility. But I tell these audiences that I believe there are two reasons:

One, we moderate very lightly, and at the same time encourage folks on MonroeTalks.com to self-moderate (by that I mean both moderate your own posts before you push the button, and users correcting each other when they see inappropriate material).

And two, we benefit from the small-town atmosphere of Monroe County and the general sense of civility that comes with small town folks. In short, there are a lot of nice people in MonroeTalks and they tend to treat each other decently.

After I gave a talk in Washington, D.C. this spring, the man who moderates the Houston Chronicle’s talk forums came up to me and said, in effect, “Congratulations on MonroeTalks, but it wouldn’t work in Houston. People just aren’t that nice.”

Several people have made reference to their belief that local politicians control how we moderate MonroeTalks. They also seem to think that local politicians control how we edit the Monroe Evening News.

Mention that at City Hall, or the county courthouse, or the offices of our state legislators, and you would get some laughs. Certainly, many local movers and shakers try to influence our reporters and editors. Some call regularly with complaints or concerns. We always listen carefully and politely. Sometimes we do what they ask. But only if we think it’s the right thing to do for our readers and our community.

Actually, there is a kind of double standard when it comes to moderating MonroeTalks. That’s because, whether for better or for worse, our legal system has a double standard when it comes to libel. One set of rules apply for public officials, another for private folks. So when a topic gets critical of a public official, it’s unlikely we’ll step in. They’re fair game. But when a topic is critical of a private individual or business, we have to be careful. If someone can prove they’ve been defamed – and it’s not true – they can sue for libel.

That’s why we didn’t do anything to stop the long threads on MonroeTalks that involved back-and-forth discussion between City Council member Brian Beneteau and supporters of former Zorba’s/Jefano’s owner Jeff Fraunhauffer. Both would be considered by the courts to be public figures – Mr. Beneteau because of his election to the city council and Mr. Fraunhauffer because of his arrest and conviction.

When we delete a potentially libelous post, we’re not just protecting ourselves – we’re protecting the person who made the statement. The Internet Communications Decency Act, passed by Congress in 1996 and updated several times since, protects the provider of a discussion forum from being sued, as long as they don’t moderate too heavily. In other words, if we generally keep hands off, except when someone complains, we can’t be sued. The person who makes the statement can be, however.

That’s one of the reasons we moderate very lightly. We don’t want to “take control” of the forums. If we did, we would be liable for the content.

King Kong meets fark.com

Wednesday, May 7th, 2008

An average story on monroenews.com gets anywhere from 500 to 2,000 page views.

Bigger stories get 3,000 to 4,000 page views, and occasionally a story will top 5,000 page views. The entire site only gets about 40,000 page views a day, and the most we’ve ever had on a day was 55,000.

So imagine my surprise when I glanced at the Web stats yesterday and saw our traffic for the day soaring above anything I’d seen before.

At 5 p.m., the site already had  50,000 page views and was projecting to top 80,000 for the day.

“What could be causing that,” I said to myself. I didn’t know of any big stories.

King Kong truckSo I checked the individual story stats, and there it was. The story about a truck called King Kong by its owner – a very unusual truck, to be sure – had already topped 20,000 page views and the number was growing by the minute.

By this morning, it’s over 35,000 page views – more than the entire site gets on some days. And the monroenews.com Web site topped 82,000 page views for May 6 and was headed for similar numbers today.

So, what happened? It didn’t take long for me to figure it out. It’s called Fark.com.

If you’re not familiar with it, Fark.com is a Web site devoted to unusual stories. It’s kind of an on-line version of “news of the weird.”

Someone sent the King Kong truck story to Fark.com, where it was displayed prominently among their “Not News” stories of the day. As of mid-morning today, 28,500 page views on monroenews.com were referred from Fark.com.

In addition, another 11,000 page views were created when people clicked on the photo of the truck, to see the larger version.

It’s fun to have a local story get noticed on a national Web site, even if it’s only Fark.com. But that’s generally not where our traffic comes from.

Most visitors to monroenews.com and MonroeTalks.com come from the local area. We know that from their IP providers, which our system keeps track of.

Links to national Web sites create some one-time excitement. The last time we had a story go national – before yesterday our most page views ever – was the traffic stop of three University of Michigan football players last May when drugs were found in the car. That story received 14,000 page views, most coming from national sports Web sites.