Tuesday, April 27, 2010

We're not mad as hell anymore

As circulation keeps falling, the debate over whether newspapers ought to maintain their long-standing tradition of presenting readers with unsigned editorials continues as publishers try to figure out what will help them survive.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution recently did away with unsigned editorials as a result of reader feedback, or so it says.

"What we found is they don't want us to be a newspaper with a strong point of view," Julia Wallace, the newspaper's editor-in-chief told NPR. "But what they do want is, they want balance. If we have a view to the right, they want a balance of a view to the left. And they want us to be transparent about how we go about our work."

The AJC's opinion pages are devoted to both sides of any debate, apparently with the goal of letting the reader decide what's right and what's wrong.

I'm OK with that. Perhaps it is time for newspapers to do away with the unsigned editorials, which traditionally have spoken on behalf of the newspaper and not just the writer.

In some corners, publishers believe that newspapers should not weigh in on any subject, leaving the reader to render the verdict on any number of issues.

I'm not OK with that.

Without the strong voice of the daily newspaper and without editors using their bully pulpit to improve life in their communities and watchdog those in power, I believe the democratic process is damaged.

Newspapers, of course, ought to be transparent when they offer opinions whether in signed or unsigned pieces. Would it help to know that the newspaper's corporate office weighed in on presidential endorsement? As a reader, I'd like to know the answer to that question.

Anyway, the Atlanta paper really must have missed the mark with its editorials if its readers now support a weak voice over a strong one. Or maybe a lot of Atlanta Journal-Constitution readers are public officials and government bureaucrats.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Danny's angels

Congratulations to Danny Jeandervin, who returned to his "new" Dover home after a long period of recovery and rehabilitation as a result of a sled-riding accident in January.

More than 100 volunteers pitched in over the last several weeks to help make his family's home more handicapped friendly. In addition, materials and food were donated by a number of businesses.

As promised, here's a list of the businesses that donated to the cause:

Carter Lumber
Glass Lumber
Peterman Plumbing
Wood Electric
The House Doctor
JMG Construction
Gor-Con Construction
Dave Williams Painting
Williams Furniture
Dover-Phila Heating and Cooling
Hatcher Roofing
Pace-Sanker Landscaping
Alan Singre Drywall Finishing
Blick Tool & Die
Reese Cast Stone

Gary's Market & Deli
Miceli's Quality Meats
Hog Heaven
Bread Head Bakery
Mary Zifers' Pizza
Domino Pizza
Papa John's Pizza
East of Chicago Pizza
Taco Bell - Cleveland Ave, Canton
McDonald's - Dover
Subway - Dover

Sherri Douglas reports that there were many other community members who made individual donations. Sherri has posted photos of Danny's homecoming here.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Ohio lost a good one

Ohio lost a true public servant when Chief Justice Tom Moyer died last Friday and sadly most of its citizens probably don't realize it.

Moyer was a periodic visitor to the Times-Reporter during my tenure as editor. He didn't bring with him the traditional entourage that normally accompanies high-ranking public officials. (Former U.S. Rep. Bob Ney used to bring so many people that I'd have to reorder business cards after he left.)

But Moyer apparently didn't believe he was anything special. Introducing himself to editors, he'd offer simply, "Hi, I'm Tom Moyer."

What would follow would be a casual conversation about the current state of the law -- the kind you might have at the kitchen table if the chief justice happened to be your father.

Moyer believed judges should be appointed and not elected, arguing that politics had no place in the judicial system. I’ve come to embrace that line of thinking, given some of the trials in our own county.

Moyer also seemed to have the wrongly accused-innocent victim in mind with at least several of his decisions. He believed prosecutors should share with defense attorneys any witness statements and other evidence before trial. He also questioned the extent of the weight given to “expert” witnesses when they testify to a myriad of circumstances.

A friend of mine, former Plain Dealer Columbus bureau chief Jim Underwood, knew Tom Moyer well and testified to Moyer’s quick wit.

“One of my first memories of him was when he was an assistant to Gov. Jim Rhodes,” Underwood said. “During a campaign year, Rhodes came into one of the communities I was covering as a young reporter and promised to build a much-needed highway in the region.

“As I was getting ready to write the story, an editor suggested I check the files and sure enough, Rhodes made the same pledge in a prior campaign. I was covering Rhodes at another stop and spotted Moyer. ‘Hey,’ I said, ‘This is the second time he has promised to build that damn road in Licking County.’

“Moyer just nodded and whispered to me, ‘That road is so important to the community he's going to build it twice for the good folks in that part of the state.’”

* * *
Journal Register Co., former owner of the Times-Reporter, is thinking of changing its name.

According to Editor & Publisher, CEO John Paton, who has been charged by lenders with the task of remaking the once-bankrupt company, wrote in his blog: "While some of our newspapers have been around since before the American Revolution, the Journal Register Company name is only about 20 years old or so. That name has certain connotations both pro and con.

"I am wondering if the name now needs to be changed to reflect our new focus on multiple media platforms and hyperlocal journalism. What do you think?”

E&P notes that Journal Register, which managed the T-R in the '90s, acquired a reputation as a chain of relentless cost-cutting and unambitious journalism.

Its CEO at the time was the late Bob Jelenic, whose focus was on coverage of local sports. He loved the labor-intensive baseball and softball box scores in his papers and made it known in no uncertain terms.

"I find it very disappointing that some of our publishers and editors still do not fully understand the value of local sports," Jelenic wrote in a 1995 memo. "The more local names that we can get into the paper the better our future will be.

"Therefore, for the last time, I am mandating that your coverage of high school, commmunity college, legion, Little League All Stars and Babe Ruth All Stars, include the entire box score for the primary teams in your market. So there is no misunderstanding, following is a list of teams that the Trentonian covers on a daily basis with box scores..."

Jelenic, a Canadian, also was a huge hockey fan. Fortunately, there were no hockey teams for the T-R to cover in its circulation area, which probably irked the hell out of him.

Mr. Paton, change the name.

* * *
Mark Judy, whom I worked closely with over two decades, is the latest casualty of the contraction in the newspaper business. Judy wore many hats at the T-R, including graphic artist and information technology chief.

One minute he'd be fixing your computer and the next he'd be working on a map of the Christmas parade. Or downloading mistake-laden documents. Or posting the Buehler's circular to the Web. Or, well, you get the point.

Mark's a good guy and I wish him the best.

* * *
Work continues on the home of Dover High football player Danny Jeandervin, who was seriously injured in a sledding accident in January. I'm told Danny's home is being retooled by volunteers to allow for his physical needs.

I'll be happy to publish a list of those who helped and/or donated to the project if someone gets it to me.