Monthly Archives: October 2008

Newspaper TV develops a reach

100408mink1_t220.jpgEarly in October, sportswriter Mike Griffith did a feature on Ken Mink, a 73-year-old on the Roane State basketball team. Web producer Erin Chapin created an engaging video to go with the piece.
The package was popular with local readers, but several days later a national audience discovered the story, and interest took off. By Oct. 23, traffic on the video was so heavy that we had to shift it to YouTube to handle the load, and it made YouTube’s most-popular video list.
Here’s what happened next, according to a note from Mink to sports editor Steve Ahillen:
“ESPN, Fox News and MSNBC picked up on your stuff off the Internet and ran some of it this week, creating a wave of media response. The national TV exposure led to many other national media contacting me for interviews.
“The New York Daily News called for an interview. Jim Litke, the respected basketball columnist for the Associated Press, did an interview with me, NBC-TV Sports called, officials from The Today Show called and indicated they wanted to do a remote from Roane State when we open our season, the Inside Edition TV show called and said they were sending a producer and film crew from New York City to Roane State next week to film me in practice and to interview my wife, Emilia, at our home
“The Bristol Herald-Courier called for an interview, the Ellen DeGeneres TV show called and said they wanted to do an interview, the Wall Street Journal called for an interview and talk radio shows from Miami, Houston, Vancouver, Seattle, Denver, Des Moines and Honolulu called for live on-the-air interviews. And, a movie producer from Hollywood called and said they were interested in developing a movie about my return to college basketball.”
I’m glad the Ken Mink video came along to displace our previous most-popular video, an interview with a Knoxville porn star whose encounter with a state trooper led to his dismissal.

Why we chose to endorse again this year

Be careful what you ask — you might get an answer. A week ago, we asked readers whether the paper should continue its practice of endorsing in presidential elections.
At the News Sentinel, we are well aware of how the role of the news media is changing. When citizens have worldwide access to news and instant ability to communicate everywhere, a newspaper no longer is an information gatekeeper. We now see our role as a discussion facilitator as well as information provider.
Editorials and opinion columns add to the public dialog. But we had begun to wonder whether presidential endorsements contributed to that mission or detracted from it. In a polarized environment, did it still make sense to recommend a president when, in truth, we had no more information than any other connected citizen?
So we asked for reader input — and we got it.
More than 1,100 votes were cast in our online survey, and more than 300 voters posted comments. The voting was almost exactly 3-to-1 against our endorsing. On my blog, another 28 comments were posted; interestingly, though, almost all of them urged us to endorse.
Some commenters felt it was the newspaper’s job to provide news, not opinions. “You report; we decide,” was how one poster succinctly put it.
Some contended that endorsements contribute to bias: “How can newspapers be unbiased if they endorse a candidate?” was a typical comment.
Others argued that, for consistency, we should drop all endorsements if we dropped any. “If you don’t endorse a presidential candidate and then go back to endorsing local candidates, you present the appearance of hypocrisy and cowardice.”
I have to disagree with all those arguments. I’m convinced that opinion pieces help accomplish the goals of providing information and fostering debate. Although some members of the public may have doubts, good newspapers have meaningful barriers between their opinion pages and their news columns, and that includes the News Sentinel. And I do think a distinction can be drawn between the presidential race, about which a local newspaper has limited expertise, and local and state issues, in which it is immersed.
A few “no” votes suggested a mercenary motive: “From a business perspective, it seems like it would be wise to not endorse a candidate as you might lose some of your customer base.”
We know endorsements do spark cancellations. But our long-term credibility is more vital to our readership than short-term concerns about subscriptions.
On the other side of the argument were readers who simply were grateful to have another voice to consider.
“I always read your endorsements. I don’t always agree with them, but I appreciate being able to compare those factors you determined were important in a given race against my own list of priorities.”
That point struck me as quite valid. People can choose not to read what we publish. But choosing not to publish gives those who wish to read no choice.
“Jump in and join the fun!” said one comment.
That’s what we’re going to do, just have we have for decades past. We have decided to respect the 25 percent of the readers who still want to see the News Sentinel’s pick for president and read the reasoning behind the selection. We’ll endorse in the presidential race, probably in Sunday’s paper.
You may agree or disagree with what we have to say. But that, happily, is what democracy is all about.

Should the News Sentinel endorse in the presidential race?

Presidential endorsements have been a longstanding tradition at the News Sentinel, as at most other American newspapers.
For years, the News Sentinel’s endorsement was based on a majority vote among the editors and corporate executives of the E.W. Scripps Co., which owns the paper. That practice was dropped for the last presidential election. Now we are discussing whether it makes sense to make a presidential endorsement at all.
Arguments in favor of continuing the tradition: Our editorial board follows the news closely, is well-informed on the issues and has a strong sense of the community, so our opinion is useful to readers. Endorsements, like all editorials, help spark debate and discussion, an essential part of the democratic process.
Arguments against: We don’t interview the presidential candidates, as we do the candidates for local and state offices , and, in this digital age, we have no special access to information about them. Presidential endorsements contribute to the polarization in our society and tend to aggravate readers and lead them to believe our coverage is biased.
What do you think? Is a presidential endorsement still a useful and viable service the News Sentinel should provide? Vote here, and add any comments you like.
We can’t guarantee that we will abide by a majority vote, but your feedback will be useful in helping us make a decision.

The roots of journalism’s woes

Critics like to point to bias and bad journalism as root causes of the woes many newspapers are facing these days.
Clearly, good journalism is important to a newspaper’s success. But in a piece in American Journalism Review called “Don’t Blame the Journalists,” Paul Farhi makes a strong case that journalism has had nothing to do with the print media’s slide.
I don’t know that I fully embrace his thesis. I think newspapers have tended to be stultified and uncreative in recent years, and that has harmed the industry.
But his analysis of the forces shaping the business is as succinct as any I’ve read, and his forecast of a looming “death spiral” should frighten anyone who believes newspaper journalists still provide an important service to society.