Got this note from a reader today:
“Are you kidding me? I pick up the morning paper and the headline is about MULCH? This is the most momentous inauguration in modern history and your headline is about mulch! Shame on you. Oh, yes, Obama got the lower half, but if you look at any other major newspaper in this country, they have the sense to make this inauguration the headline.”
We’ll plead guilty on this one. Miscommunication. A short holiday shift. Computer problems. There was enough confusion to go around, and the upshot was we didn’t give our preview of the inauguration the dominance it deserved in today’s paper.
But standby for tomorrow’s edition, when we publish our coverage of the inauguration itself. I think readers will know that we recognize the historical signficance of the event.
The Los Angeles Times has said it now makes enough money through online advertising to pay the salaries of its journalists.
There are caveats. For one thing, a newsroom needs more than just payroll to function. Still, the news is a sign that a tipping point lies ahead.
The E.W. Scripps Co. has set a similar goal. We won’t hit it for a while. But projections for online advertising indicate that there’s a possibility of a paperless newspaper in the future.
Of course, we don’t particularly want that. Our old business model based on ink on newsprint delivered to customers has worked well since the 19th century, and I expect it to be viable for many more years to come.
But for people concerned about the future of journalism, it’s heartening to consider that a new business model might be able to pay the bills some day, too.
Larry Brown of Oak Ridge had this comment about a localized Los Angeles Times story we ran right before Christmas about black dogs being adopted less frequently than other dogs:
“Dec. 20 must have been an abnormally slow news day.There can be no other reason for a story such as ‘Black animals often overlooked’ to have been printed in the Faith & Family section of the News Sentinel.
“No facts presented. No numbers of black animals versus white animals adopted given. No mention of red or tri-color animals versus yellow or tan. If this story had to be printed, it should have been part of the comics section.
“As if the story itself was not silly enough, the photo of the dog in the story served to amplify the silliness. The dog was spotted.”
News can get pretty slow right before Christmas. But I thought the piece was interesting. By the way, the McElroys have three adopted dogs — one black, one tan and one tri-color — plus a purchased white dog. Make of that what you will. The only thing it tells me is that we have too many dogs.
Here’s my column for Sunday announcing the launch of our School Matters section:
School matters. That’s never been truer than it is today.
With technology driving a global economy and creating worldwide competition for jobs, a good education is as much a tool to survival as a ticket to success. The concern isn’t just for individuals, either. A community must have an educated workforce if it wants to compete for economic growth.
That’s why local civic leaders, such as Mike Edwards of the Knoxville Chamber, have made education a recurring theme. It’s also why the News Sentinel is launching a new section next Tuesday called School Matters.
We’ll need your help, though. Like the schools, School Matters will require the involvement of concerned citizens to reach its full potential. That’s because it’s an interactive newspaper section.
For the past couple of years, the News Sentinel has maintained a Web site also called School Matters that has served as a hub for community discussion of what’s happening in classrooms in the Knoxville area. Now, School Matters will have a print presence, as well.
Each week, new issues will be raised in the newspaper section. Readers will be invited to go online to join the discussion and to raise new topics of their own. Then the ideas floated in cyberspace will be reported in print, and new subjects will be proposed for discussion. In this way, we hope to build a dynamic discourse that finds solutions to the real concerns that parents, students, educators and other citizens have about their neighborhood schools and their school systems.
“School Matters accomplishes a dialog, a way for people not just to comment but to raise their own issues,” said Lisa Starbuck, who helped create the School Matters Web site. “It’s a place where discussions can live on.”
In the past, issues on the site have ranged from school uniforms to attendance zones. A hot topic today is how schools deal with kids with asthma and other infirmities. One subject we’ll be raising on the first School Matters page is whether teachers should be allowed to carry guns, as has been suggested by some folks. To further spark discussions, Lola Alapo, the News Sentinel’s reporter on the K-12 schools beat, will be writing a monthly column for the section, too.
School Matters will replace Textme on the cover of the Tuesday features section. But Textme won’t be going away. That content, by and for teens, will be moving to the back page of the section. The issues the young people raise should be a perfect complement to the discussions in the front of the section.
If you’d like to join the discussion, go to the School Matters site. Or just check out what’s being said in Tuesday’s paper. School really does matter, these days more than ever.
Here’s one of the comments I received after our Christmas edition featured a sticky note advertising a gun show:
“I don’t think we need be reminded about all the wonderful tidings that come along once year around Christmas. But after waking to the sound of sleepy children discovering that Santa had come and left them lots of toys, I went to sit down to my coffee and opened up the News Sentinel.
“Instead of a warm ‘Merry Christmas’ from your paper, I received an obnoxious and offensive message. ‘Merry Gun Show!,’ screamed the top header of the paper. A bright, orange sticker advertising a gun show for the following weekend was plastered across the front page. (See attached photo.)
“Why, on the one day of the year that you wish to spread this joyous day’s greetings, would you cover it up, especially with an advertisement such as this?
“Now I’m not saying guns are bad. There are many fun activities involving guns. But a gun’s sole purpose is to deliver a bullet whose sole purpose is to destroy, whether it be a clay plate, an animal, a can on a fence, or a person.
“Christmas is about new life, new light, peace on Earth. With one sticker you overshadowed that light and promoted destruction instead of peace on this day, and during these hard times, when it is most needed. What a shame.”
A recent survey by Opinion Research Corporation found that 77 percent of Americans say the media are contributing to the economic downturn by making people feel scared.
That may well be true. There’s clearly a mass-psychology dimension to economic swings. Greed can drive markets up, and fear can drive them down.
A responsible news organization shouldn’t play to fears or blow isolated occurences out of proportion. But, at the same time, it shouldn’t be blindly boosterish or portray the world through rose-colored glasses.
Serious bad news has to be given the attention it deserves.
Unfortunately, that will be the case in tomorrow’s paper, where our six-column banner is slated to read: “Economic whammy.” In the past 24 hours, the Knoxville area has learned of the Goody’s liquidation and major layoffs at Alcoa and Sea Ray.
My fear is that the news is going to get worse before it gets better.