Friday, June 16, 2006

Sucker punch?

About the fire, there was this -- Great Falls gasping for air.

I like the writer. He's a helluva writer. Just got put into the position of being the featured news columnist. Until this column, he hadn't really taken a stand on anything. He tells great stories, and that's what he did. Until that.

Usually, it's best to just leave well enough alone. Usually. But my paper had to respond.

Great Falls sucker-punched

We've heard back from the community. They are giving us a big "Hell yeah" for our piece.

This was the first column the writer penned about Chester County since he got his new gig.

You know what the say about first impressions.

He's written two more times in column form about the incident.

Suddenly, the town that's like a prize fighter who needs to be put out of his misery is now a town with "big heart."

Has the town changed so much in just a couple or three days?

Funny enough, there was another column in what The Herald calls The Chester County Herald. It's just a page, once a week. In a bullet item brief, the columnist takes an unnamed "Mr. Reporter" to task, using a quote from the first Herald piece last week. "The only action in town is the fire destroying its heritage." Little Miss Shirley didn't like that. (Her stuff isn't available online.)

It's kind of funny, actually. One of the tragedies of the fire, for this lady, was not being able to go to the salon in Great Falls and get her hair done, apparently.

But the community is also letting The Herald know. Here's a letter to the editor they ran.

We got thanked for putting up a BUNCH of pictures on the web to let former residents know what is going on. Another said she could practically smell the hydrochloric acid in the fire from our coverage. That's unabashed response.

While I was at the Red Cross shelter, I was asked if The Charlotte Observer was present. I'm usually loath to send a person to another paper, but I was busy, so I pointed the reporter out. The shelter volunteer went on her way. I caught up with the volunteeer later and asked why she wanted The Observer.

She didn't like the paper's coverage. The pictures were all negative, she said. A woman in her "night shirt" was on the front page of the local section. An old man looking confused on the inside page. It didn't show anything positive going on in the middle of the troubles, and she just couldn't hold back.

So I said, "Oh, I wish you'd have told me. I'd love to watch that."

Here's the second editorial we did about the Great Falls fire. Unlikely hero.

The TV stations had coverage in pretty much the same vein.

I've seen it for years now.

I imagined myself after college going to bigger and bigger dailies, but I started looking for work during a recession, which newspapers tend to tighten up in advance of official notice. It took me a while to find a job, and it was at a weekly, 50 miles from a decent movie theater or bookstore. I thought I couldn't stand it, going in, but I have absolutely loved it.

I'm still at a non-daily, 12 years later.

Here's the thing. People will fawn over big papers and TV usually. Then they will open up a piece and usually hate it for being negative.

Everything in a big newspaper's piece has usually been in a GOOD weekly already, just in pieces, here or there, as things happen or get ready to happen. A big newspaper sometimes tries to come in and get the local newspaper to show them their work, and to ease their way.

Yet people don't realize they've already gotten the stuff in the big "package" before, all along, once a week in their mailbox.

And they get it without the usual negative spin.

My paper isn't a bulletin board for the cheery only. We do hard, hard stuff. We covered some very outraged people during this fire.

We just didn't make a character judgment about the town while people were in the moment.

Our paper is here for the long haul, and it wants to represent its readers and the community. It isn't parachuting in when the scanner goes off and running off when a "bigger" story rears its head elsewhere.

You hear a lot about the newspaper industry "dying" and circulation declining.

Don't look at just the headlines when you see those things. Daily circulation is either declining or having such meager growth that it is actually losing ground in growing communities.

Weekly papers, non-daily papers, community papers? Their circulation is growing. Fast.

Wonder why?

1 comment:

Lareman said...

Couldn't agree with you more, Stephen, about weeklies vis-a-vis daily newspapers. A weekly newspaper is not necessarily a "weakly" paper. Weeklies don't get their due. In some ways I see them as the bedrock of journalism. Keep up your good work in Chester and Great Falls.