Thursday, December 24, 2009

Sit... Stay... Good Boy.

Forced to sleep on a twin bed at my parent's house for the holidays, I was able to convince my dog to sleep on a couch instead of on the bed with me. Ah, leg room.

We often talk about "training" our sources and readers/listeners/viewers in the news biz. It sounds like we want Fido to do a new trick, or at least be obediant when guests are visiting.

It can be difficult to train sources and readers. Like a dog, it requires patience and persistence. Again, like a dog, it pays off.
You know when you've got that feeling the dog may be getting the command or trick, but it's not quite where you want it to be. That's how I'm starting to feel. After more than a year and a half at this newspapers and I have confidence that some of my sources and readers are on the brink of being "trained."
Yesterday, the city manager called my cell phone at 10 p.m. to tell me about a boil order, thinking I may want to put it on the Web. I did. By 9 a.m. the next morning (less than 12 hours since the post) the story had nearly 150 hits.
Even just six months ago I don't think the city manager would have thought to call my cell phone to tell me something like that. And just six months ago, even if we had the boil order up promptly, I doubt we would have seen 150 hits - especially overnight like that.
It just goes to show what, like a dog, constant reinforcement can do. It goes beyond the teases to the Web in the print product. I tell people all the time that we had that on our Web site, or that we'll get that on the Web soon if it's urgent. As a weekly, the Web becomes a resource to make the newspaper a nearly daily product (just weekdays unless there's breaking news, of course).
You don't have to have a full list of stories everyday on the Web, just one update a day and telling people about it drives traffic over time.
Alright, time to end the blog, I think my dog needs to go outside... where did I put that leash?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Of blogs and councilmen

It's 9 a.m. three days before Christmas. I'm a journalist working feverishly on an early deadline. And my coffee is cold.

I think a little humor is good for a blog - a professional blog, not an anonymous personal blog. But how far is too far?

I have two blog thoughts I'm holding back on for the moment.

Following a recent city council meeting, I asked an incumbent if he was going to file for reelection. All other incumbents had filed and he had toyed with the idea of running for state rep. in the past. So really I was just fishing for the scoop.

When asked if he was going to file for reelection, he replied, "I'm not up yet. It's not my year."

I replied, "Yes it is. It was in the paper - twice."

"Hey, Mayor," he asked, "Who's up this year?"

"Well, it was Bill and Ted last time," (names changed to protect the innocent) the mayor replied, "So it's you and Jill."

"Oh," the councilman said. "I'll be in City Hall first thing in the morning to file."

I wouldn't go into that much detail for a blog on my newspaper's Web site, but I think it would be humorous to mention that he didn't realize he was up for reelection.

Would I be burning a bridge with a source? This is a pretty easy-going councilman and it looks like he may run unopposed. But would I have a headline in the paper soon 'Councilman forgets to file, launches write-in campaign' if I had not said anything?

Other thought on a blog: I've been toying with a blog that is a spoof on a Christmas song. The spoof could go two ways: poke fun with a reflection of the year or make it timeless to suit the city. Would the "funny" one make too many people mad?

Oh blog, how you vex me.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

To join or not to join...

...that is the question.

We've had some slight "restructuring" in our division of the company recently.

The publisher for my newspaper was moved to another office to fill another role. In interest of the bottom line, the "publisher" position at this location will not be filled at this time. According to upper management, we're a pretty self-sufficient crew in this office and should be fine without a publisher.

I'd rather have a publisher here, but that's neither here nor there at this point.

Among the publisher's unofficial job roles, as is the same with me, was to be face for the newspaper in the community and enhance networking for the company. I do this by being a reporting editor and attend events, meetings, etc. The publisher did this by attending an occasional event, but mostly be joining groups. He was a member of Rotary and a local business networking group. He invited an ad rep to step into the business networking group role and she has done so (it provides good networking for ad sales).

The question left to me is do I want to join Rotary or another similar organization. Rotary is really the big one. There's Lion's Club, too.

Rotary is much more social. They meet for lunch once a week and typically have a presentation. They do some planning, usually a service project once every other month or so. Rotary is full of the younger- to middle-age business professionals int the community.

Lions Club meets monthly in the evening to plan their next service project or fundraiser. It's also a much older crowd.

Here's the problem: I am not a fan of the Rotary organization. I mean, I like what they do. They do some great service projects in the community and fundraising for some good local, national and international things. I just hate their meetings. And you get roped into doing so many things you don't have time to do or care to do.

I'm also worried about the conflict of interest. Both Rotary and Lions Club do several things throughout the year that are newsworthy including briefs, wild art and full-blown stories. This would all have to be taken on by the part-time writer. And it would be hard to make sure it wouldn't seem like things at Rotary or Lions Club would be covered on the editor's whim because he's a member.

The positives: it would be great PR for the paper, good networking opportunities and an avenue to find more story ideas or sources. It could also create some good fodder for columns.

Any suggestions?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

I used to work in radio and at an afternoon daily.

Do I miss it?


Do I miss it that much?


It snowed last night. I just got out into negative wind-chill temperatures to scrape ice and snow off my car and my girlfriend's car. But now we're sitting on the warm couch making fun of the TV people because we're in no hurry.

I did have to get up early to update the Web site for the TWO school districts (public and private) that we cover. Then I was done ... for now.

When I was in radio I had to be in there early, one time digging my car out of nearly a foot of snow. Why did I have to be there? Because I had to help compile and distribute the list of school closings and report snow news.

It was a similar situation with the afternoon daily newspaper. We had to not only get to work in the snow, but we had to get there early so we could get the carriers sent off early. We also had to get some snow photos and maybe a quick weather story to let people know how long this would stick around.

Now, at a weekly, I've updated the Web site, I'll want to get some snow photos, but other than that I'm good. I've got a meeting to go to tonight, one of three evening things I need to attend this week, so even without snow I wasn't concerned about getting in too early anyway.

So at the weekly, so far my job is done. I don't have to leave super early to do extra work and get it done early.

Do I miss the adrenaline rush of getting the snow news out first?


Am I glad I didn't have to go in early today?

You betchya!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

I'm feeling much better now...

I'm in a slightly better mood now than I was earlier - and have been in the past few days.

I'm still disgruntled about many things, but I spent a few minutes looking at previous blog posts about the good community journalism days. That helps. It just seems there have been far more negative moments than gratifying moments lately. It wears you down.

All work and no play... ah, forget it, I need more coffee

In the spirit of this blog's title, let me address coffee for a moment. Apparently my roommate made a second pot of coffee yesterday and drank one cup. When I picked up the coffee pot this morning, it felt full so I assumed it was fresh. I poured it in my travel mug left for work. I typically don't drink coffee in the car on the way to work because I just brushed my teeth and I'm waiting for the toothpaste taste to settle. So I get to work, get some stuff done quickly then go for my first sip of coffee for the day. It's cold. Great way to start things off. Around 9:30 a.m. I mosey over to the coffee shop, pay for my coffee with a debit card then pull out my frequent-buyer card. I'm due a free one, but the card has already been swiped. I take that coffee to my office. It's now 10:35 a.m. I haven't been too busy to drink coffee, in fact I've done little of anything, and my coffee is already cold. That's pretty much a summary of the past couple weeks.

Let's get into the community journalist side of things now that we've got that anecdote out of the way. (One more side note, for some reason I've been saying "anecdote" lately when I mean to say "antidote." Anecdote = a humorous story. Antidote = medicine for poison. One of my favorite Ron White jokes is "My friend Billy would still be alive if I had known the difference between antidote and anecdote. He got bit by a snake and I kept reading him stories from 'Readers Digest.'")

OK, I digress, again. You've got to love a little word humor.

It's been a crazy few weeks around here. The football team won its state championship. We went all out. We had a four-page wrap around the sports section and made it the A-section. We bumped "A1" to "B1." We did a photo page in the double truck of the wrap and sold ads around it. We sold out. Overall, a pretty successful venture.

Of course, you've got cynical me ready to point out the problems.

1. We have a sticky note ad on the front page. I loathe sticky note ads. I abhor them so much that I did an informal study last year on various papers and front page ads. My results are another blog on another day. So, this sticky note ad. The only word above the fold (besides the flag) is "CHAMPS!" with a celebration photo spanning the front and back of the section (it folds out to be a poster). The sticky note is slightly off center, covering part of the only word on the front page. The word we put on the front page to sell the newspaper. As I look at the front page now, all I can think is it must say "CHUMPS!" or "CHIMPS!" under that ad.

2. There are many photos in the sports section, several side bars to the main story, stats, etc. Everything you'd want in a commemorative edition, right? Except a roster. Or maybe team photo. One parent complained, despite her son being in the celebration shot on the front, he was nowhere to be found inside. She said he flipped through the paper, put it down and said, "It's like I wasn't even there." I'm sure he was being over dramatic and I'm sure the mother amplified that drama, but it raises a good point.

3. I went to the game to work on a couple sidebars. I told our sports writer I was not driving across the state the day after Thanksgiving if we didn't need or have a good place for what I was going to do. He said if I wrote something, it would get in. I was sure it would. And it did. But we've got a mediocre crowd shot (compared to what I saw at the game) with a small story I wrote about fans making the trip to the game. And there's a petty column by me about the experience at the game. It's pushed back to A8 run alongside my fan story and on the same page as "other" sports news. We had two non-state-football stories: a baseball college signing and girls basketball season opener. I felt like my work just got shoved to the back. And I'm not complaining because it's "me." It's because we could have filled that space with something better and I could have lounged on the couch eating turkey instead of driving four hours, sitting through a three hour game then driving four hours home.

So those are my complaints. Would you like to hear what some in the community think? You betcha! Compliments were scarce. Criticism ruled. Especially from cross country parents. The girls cross country team won its first state title. We did a lot for it. We could have done more. But the cross country parents think they deserved a wrap. I disagree. I'm grappling with the best way to tell the following (in a polite and professional manner):

1. We are responding to what the public wants. We are not dictating what the public should read. Several of those cross country parents who are complaining are at the football games. Don't they look around? How many of those thousands do they see at their kids' cross country meets? Thousands turn out for the game. When the football team had a playoff game 2 1/2 hours away, the school sent a spirit bus and city chartered two fan buses. When the football team went to state, the school sent spirit buses and the city sold out of tickets for four 55-passenger buses within 24 hours. Thousands attended the game four hours away. Following the victory, the mayor made proclamation to declare it Bulldog Day and the school held a pep rally.
Cross country got none of this. While it is a great accomplishment, it's not what the readers want. It's not a spectator-friendly sport for many reasons. It doesn't impact as many people. In football, about 30 players on a 100-man roster are on the field for more than two snaps during each game. Think about how many parents, friends and relatives that affects. In cross country, you have five runners and an alternate compete in state. You don't have more than 10 on varsity running in a race. The impact is less.
It's not there fault. It's an admirable sport. It takes guts and endurance. I know. I ran cross country and track in middle school and high school. I've completed four marathons. I know about running. I empathize with runners.

2. It's not a money maker. We sold out of football state coverage sponsorship within a couple days: 30 spots at $35 a pop surrounding a photo page. Could we have sold that for cross country? I doubt it.

3. There's not that many diverse photo opportunities in cross country.

Those are the top three reasons. I'm sure I can think of more if I put my mind to it.

So that's just some of the issues we're facing.

The holiday season is upon us. That means everybody wants us to cover their holiday-related event in the next three weeks. If we say no, even if we ask them to submit photos, it's like we're Scrooge saying "Bah! Humbug!" to the holidays. A full-time writer/editor (that's me!), a part-time writer and a shared (with other weekly newspapers in the region) photo staff of two. Apparently as editor of a small-town newspaper, you are not allowed to have weekends off. Or weekdays. Or any time, really. You should be ready to go to any event that pops up at any time or write any feature story someone suggests and if you can't do it you should have a staff ready to deploy at a moment's notice.

By the way, many of these same people making these demands have cut back on their advertising, yet don't understand our budget woes.

As you can tell, I'm a little disgruntled, cynical and grumpy about everything that's going on in this town, at this publication (there's issues with staff disagreements that can be another blog), in this business (again, a whole other blog) and everything else around it in general.

I didn't even want to be at the city council meeting last night! I follow municipal government like some people follow sports. And they were talking TIF with upset residents. That's like the playoffs for me! But I just wanted to go home and crawl in bed.

Don't worry, the holidays are almost here! Yay! My family defines awkward holidays. We wrote the book on boring. So I'm not really looking forward to a few days off. It just means I have to get more than usual done in a shorter amount of time then play catch up when I get back. Ugh.

So there's my long, ranting blog. Glad I got it off my chest. I think I've got a ribbon cutting or something like that to go cover.