Monthly Archives: July 2011

Complaints for and against coverage of gay issues

Sometimes complaints arrive with ironic timing. Today I received two regarding our coverage of gay and lesbian issues. An email, dated Saturday, said, in part:
“I continue to be frustrated by the lack of coverage of LGBT issues in the Knoxville News Sentinel. In July our community has seen several advances in same-gender marriage, as well as service in the military. But the KNS seems opposed to sharing this information with its readership.
“I realize that past articles on LGBT issues have brought about a flurry of extremist comments (from both sides) on the KNS website. I wonder if the vitriol and passion expressed by readers unnerves KNS executives and editors. ‘Will running this story cause anti-gay violence?’ ‘Will printing such stories make the KNS seem too sympathetic with the LGBT community?’ ‘How do we report these stories without offending a large segment of our advertisers and readers?’ These are the questions that I believe KNS executives ask themselves when a piece about LGBT issues is presented for possible publication. …
“Please make a greater effort to report LGBT issues to our community. There are thousands of LGBT (and supportive) readers in our large area. By omitting these important advancements, it appears that the KNS is attempting to deny such stories.”
gay725165221003_t607.jpgThe complaint hit my inbox today, not long after I listened to a voicemail from a caller complaining about a story that ran on A1 this morning about a lesbian woman being asked to hide her “Marriage is so gay” T-shirt when she visited Dollywood recently. The caller felt the article was an attempt by the newspaper to advance the gay and lesbian agenda.
Obviously, this is a hot issue in our society these days. I don’t think the News Sentinel is shying away from coverage. But we are aware of the “vitriol and passion” that exist, and for that reason we did turn off comments on the Dollywood story. They would have gotten out of hand quickly.

U.S. phone-hacking case differed from Britain’s

Folks outside of journalism might not recall a U.S. phone-hacking case similar to the one in Britain but with a rather different tone.
On May 3, 1998, the Cincinnati Enquirer published the results of a yearlong investigation of Chiquita Brands International, headed by billionaire Carl Linder, one of Cincinnati’s leading citizens. The 18-page spread accused the company of bribery and other crimes in foreign lands and of abusing Central American workers.
The expose seemed destined to win a Pulitzer. But on June 28, the newspaper abruptly ran a front-page apology renouncing the entire story and saying it would pay Chiquita some $10 million in compensation. The apology was repeated the following day, and the day after that.
Yet, the information in the story wasn’t necessarily wrong. One reporter had simply gone too far in gathering it. Michael Gallagher, a veteran journalist, had illegally dialed into Chiquita’s voice message system and recorded messages. Then he had lied to his editors about what he had done.
When the story was first published, editor Lawrence Beaupre told readers in an editor’s note that the newspaper had based some of its reporting on copies of voice messages.
But he had believed Gallagher, who said the messages were leaked to him by a Chiquita executive. In fact, what the source had provided was access to the voice mail system, which Gallagher used on his own.
Chiquita immediately threatened to sue, not for libel but for fraud, theft and invasion of privacy. The paper launched an internal investigation, and Gallagher was soon fired. Gannett then removed Beaupre as editor and assigned him to apply the lessons he had learned by teaching ethics to the company’s other papers.
Chiquita portrayed the retraction as a repudiation of the Enquirer’s reporting. But many facts in the stories stood up to later scrutiny. Still, because a reporter had acted deceitfully, the credibility of the entire project was compromised, and scrapped.
It’s interesting to consider how the American scandal differs from the one in Britain.
Despite protestations to the contrary, the hacking at the News of the World seems to have been standard procedure, used on many stories. In the U.S., the incident was clearly an isolated one.

News of the World

News of the World

The News of the World’s intrusions targeted celebrities and victims of crime and tragedy. Gallagher crossed the line investigating corporate wrongdoing and abuse of power.
In Britain, efforts were made to cover up the hacking as it came to light. The Enquirer, admittedly under pressure, quickly agreed to a very public admission of guilt.
And while Rupert Murdoch’s editors were cozy with the British power structure, the Gannett editors were attacking one of their community’s most powerful figures.
The American newspaper business has its faults and challenges, no question. But it’s hard to imagine that our nation’s largest newspaper — USA Today, also owned by Gannett — or any other major paper could sink into the ethical cesspool that The News of the World apparently had become.

Mixed reaction greets News Sentinel redesign

a1photo.jpgOur new design debuted today, and the feedback has been remarkably close to 50-50. Half the people commenting liked it; the other half didn’t.
The folks who liked it thought it was easy to read, attractive and engaging. “Two thumbs up! I like the bolder look, the color enhancements,” wrote one reader. “It’s much crisper looking. I feel like I can read it easier.”
People who didn’t like it got pretty specific.
Some said the new design reminded them of USA Today, “a paper I extremely dislike,” as one reader put it.
Several commented on the Sports section, especially the baseball page. Because of the change-over, we moved up the deadline on that page and ended up publishing only a few of the Major League box scores in the edition most people got. “The baseball page is a travesty!!!” wrote one reader. “I was so disgusted that I felt like flinging the paper in the trash without going further.” Happily, that will improve over the next few days as we get the bugs in our new system worked out.
A couple had a hard time finding the lottery numbers, which still are on Page A2 but in another spot, and one man was afraid we’d cut “Today in History” to a single item each day. We haven’t. It will vary by the day.
A few folks felt the quality of the photos was diminished. That’s something we can improve as we work on photo-toning process.
Others complained about the readability of the print. We stayed with the same typeface for the bodies of our articles, but typefaces changed in other uses, and we have added color screens to some features, which can reduce readability if not used with care.
My favorite comment came from a woman who said she had been reading the paper more than 50 years:
“Unlike many people my age, I’m not afraid of change. I looked forward to seeing your new design. I just read the morning paper, and after a short adjustment period, I’ve decided that I like it!
“At first, I missed some things because they looked like advertisements. But your eye and brain adjust, and soon I was enjoying all the color and the other design elements. It reminds me of USA Today, and that’s OK, because it is also a very readable newspaper. I like the headings for each section with the color bar above the heading, I like the little red square setting off the sub-heads. I noticed that you changed headline typefaces for the lead story in each section.
“As usual, I found some typos in the Sports section — notably the quote and name of “Justi” King. I’m an old editor from way back, so my eye is always drawn to typos. You should do better than that.”
She’s right, of course. It’s the quality of the content that ultimately matters, not the package it is wrapped in.

Suffrage Memorial photo offends reader

At least one reader objected to the July 11 “Reader’s Eye” photograph of the statues of the suffragettes wearing beekeeper masks and a cap apparently related to Jack Daniel’s new Tennessee Honey liqueur. She wrote:
readerseye_t300.jpg“Desecration of the Market Square Suffrage Memorial with Jack Daniels paraphernalia is a travesty, not a laughing matter. Women in Tennessee and elsewhere in the United States marched, starved themselves, and were imprisoned to get the right to vote. They got this right only 91 years ago. The memorial commemorates their decades-long struggle. Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey may be “very tasty,” but this photograph is in bad taste.”
Jogger Rob Hoskins shot the photo one morning with his iPhone.
I couldn’t agree more that the women’s suffrage movement deserves honor and respect, and I think it’s very cool that Tennessee played a pivotal role in women winning the right to vote in America. The suffrage memorial is a downtown landmark to be proud of.
But pulling statue pranks is a part of America’s heritage, too, though not in such a serious way. The statue of the surfer in Cardiff, Calif., for instance, has found itself dressed in a wedding gown, a tutu, a tennis outfit and as Zorro. It even has been eaten by a giant paper mache shark.
Sometimes it’s the beloved statues that attract pranks, almost as a sign of affection. During the winter, the three suffragettes briefly sported red, white and blue head warmers.
I do think the statue should be treated with respect, and doing permanent damage to it would be horrendous. But I don’t think any disrepect was meant in this case by the prankster or Hoskins, and certainly not by the News Sentinel, which enthusiastically supported the campaign to erect the statue.

News Sentinel preparing to launch redesign

This week training began in the newsroom on a major transition to a new pagination system and a redesign of the News Sentinel. The change is part of an initiative by the E.W. Scripps Co. to put all of its newspapers on the same system in a “cloud” computing environment and to give them the same basic design. The goal is to create synergies that will allow the papers to share pages, such as the Major League Baseball page, and to support each other’s production work. In effect, we will be like one big newspaper with multiple editions being produced on one central computer system, which, incidentally, will be hosted on servers in northern California.
redesign.jpgThe new look started with a concept developed by our paper in Corpus Christi, Texas, then refined through collaboration and negotiation among the editors and page designers of the 13 Scripps newspapers. The News Sentinel will make the switch the night of July 18, so the Tuesday, July 19 paper will be the first to sport the new look.
We’re the 10th Scripps paper to make the transition, and the redesign has been well-received by readers in other cities. It features a new family of headline fonts and new styles for page headers, column mugs, breakout boxes and a variety of other elements. A front page “Quick Read” column will be one readily noticeable change.
Happily, our body type will not be changing. When we redesigned several years ago for our new presses, we worked hard to find the most readable typeface we could. It is called Poynter Old Style Text, and Scripps has adopted it for all its papers. Also, we do not plan to eliminate or move any features or other components of the newspaper in the redesign. Although I am hoping to expand content in one or two spots.
The Scripps papers on the Treasure Coast of Florida, including The Stuart News, went to the new design a few months ago. A sample of one of its recent front pages is featured here.