Is it just me, or …

Is it just me, or is the latest batch of U.S. Cellular commercials, um, off-putting?
You know the ones: A guy in a suit is standing atop a cell tower in the middle of a scenic vista. He tells you something to the effect of “You can get 4G, LTE where you just wouldn’t expect it.”
Then, with scenes of cell towers planted in forests, farmland, plains and ocean beaches flashing by, he goes on to say (I think I counted right): “Way, way, way, way, way, way, way, way, way, way, way, way out here.”
(That’s 12 “ways” by my count, by the way. Might have been 13.)
Given the beauty of the various settings and the non-beauty of the cell towers dropped in the middle of them, it just made me wonder what the ad creators were thinking.
Or is it just me?

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Not many fires, but …

Local fire departments were happy there were few fires over the Fourth of July weekend. One mobile home on Savage Creek burned, but it was relatively quiet otherwise.
Well, quiet isn’t the right word. Sitting outside at friends’ home in the east hills, we were treated to a lengthy — and pretty impressive — display of illegal fireworks rising up all over Medford. The skies lit up and the booms reverberated.
Thankfully, it was quiet in the hills, where neighbors remember all too well the Roxy Ann Peak fire that burned periously close to too many homes.
Maybe the city folks think they’re immune — let’s hope they get smarter as the summer and the heat wear on.

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Who says nobody does anything about the weather?

Yep, we made changes to our in-paper weather page and, yep, we’ve been getting the complaints we expected. Namely, “Where did the national weather map go?” and “Why did you drop Yuma from your listings?”

Simple answer: We tightened up the weather page to create a more specific space for jumps (continued from Page 1A). Rather than have those jumps land on as many as three pages, we are trying to keep them to the one page on the back of the A section.

To do that, we dropped the national weather map and a couple dozen temp-and-precip listings for national cities (bye-bye, Yuma). Some folks aren’t happy, and I’m sorry for that, but in our conversations with readers it seems clear that people are most interested in local and regional weather.

For those who are planning a trip and want to check in on the weather elsewhere, there are still 52 national cities listed, along with local cities and 26 regional cities. (Not to mention this new-fangled thing called the Internet.)

All of this coincided with a shift to a new weather service — actually, a return to a former service, AccuWeather. We had a number of problems with our previous service, so we’re hoping this change will be for the better.

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GMO: Facts versus beliefs

After we published an editorial opposing the anti-GMO measure on the Jackson County ballot, we received a number of less-than-complimentary responses. They claim we are biased or are dupes of the corporate agri-businesses that also oppose the measure. The claims include: 1. What do you expect, they are owned by Rupert Murdoch. 2. They’ve been bought off by advertising dollars. 3. Their owners are investors in some of the agribusinesses.

Well …

1. We no longer have any connection with Rupert Murdoch, the big cheese at NewsCorp, which purchased our parent company, Dow Jones, but sold us last year.

2. If we have had paid advertising from the pro-GMO group, I’m not aware of it. (Not that it would matter, anyway, we’ve made any number of endorsements over the years for people who are did not advertise, while not endorsing those who did.)

3. We are owned by GateHouse Media. Its principal investor is Fortress Investment Group, which at least at one point that we could find (in 2007) invested in Monsanto. We deal wtih GateHouse, not Fortress and, in fact, I couldn’t tell you the name of even one person at Fortress. GateHouse has never suggested any editorial position we should take on any issue.

As for our position on the GMO measure, it was based on one basic fact: Despite hundreds and hundreds of studies, no one has found any health risks associated with GMOs. It’s that simple.

If you support the anti-GMO measure and are about to blow your stack over that statement, I invite you to do some reading:

A blog by Jon Entine in Forbes magazine. Yes, Forbes is a business magazine, but read the piece and follow the links to the scientific research. Among the interesting facts: A team of Italian scientists report that between 2002 and 2012, more than 1,700 studies were done on the safety of GMO food for human consumption and came up with not one example of danger to humans.

 A long story in the New York Times examining how politics won out over science in a GMO fight in Hawaii.

Those kinds of stories — and facts — helped us make up our minds. Read them and see if they don’t at least raise some questions in your mind.

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Adding to the political discussion

There’s some sentiment among newspaper owners that their publications should not be in the business of writing opinions. They say it messes with the idea of journalistic impartiality if the paper (and of course, website) not only covers an issue, but offers its opinion.

That argument can be made (and sometimes made by members of the public as well) but it seems from here that its made without a real understanding of the separation of a newspaper’s editorial function and its reporting. Whether those two are separated by floors in a large newsroom or by a mental walling off in a smaller one, they are kept separate.

At the Mail Tribune, we have an editorial board that decides our positions on issues. It’s a small enough newsroom that the two editors on the board (myself and opinion page editor Gary Nelson) certainly have contact with reporters and even their stories. But it’s a matter of principal and practice that our editorial positions are not carried over into whatever contact we have with stories on the same subject.

Election time is challenging for the editorial board, with lots of meetings with candidates as well as proponents and opponents of measures. We do things a bit differently than some in the candidate races by inviting all candidates to the same meeting, which can set up a mini-debate when there are differences of opinion.

Why should people care about our editorial stances? I’d say because we’ve had a chance to sit down with the participants and see not only how they answer questions, but how they handle themselves in the process.

We don’t fool ourselves into thinking our editorials change vast swaths of votes. But they provide more information on issues that often can be a bit opaque to readers. Whether people read our editorials and decide they agree or decide they disagree, at least they’ve added more information in their decision-making process. And that’s a good thing.

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You may be a winner

The carnival barker says you can’t win if you don’t play. Well, then, we’ve got a chance to win, because we’re definitely playing in various journalism contests. Every year, these contests come along — chief among them the Society of Professional Journalists and Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association. This year, our new owners, GateHouse Media, let us know they have their own internal contest.

Feels like I’ve been contesting for a month. My computer desktop testifies to how many entries we’ve put it — it’s filled with little PDF symbols, one for each digital entry that consists of the pages carrying the stories, photos or page designs entered in the contests. And those don’t even include our online entries.

It always feels odd to spend time on this. We know what we’ve done and are more focused on what’s ahead. But it’s nice if the staff and the newspaper can get some recognition — and, besides, everybody else does it so we have to keep up with the Joneses.

Every year, it’s nice to win a few awards. But, honestly, I think it’s a better feeling just to be done with filling out the entries.

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Differing views

Here are excerpts from a couple of emails we received today:

“Your liberal newspaper is so slanted in favor of the teachers union, that it’s not funny.” …

and …

“… it appears that the Mail Tribune is determined to defend the position of the district and their efforts to bust the union at every turn.  Is this what we should expect from a news organization that ownership demands “fair and balanced” reporting?”

I guess if supporters on both sides are unhappy with us, we must be doing something right.

(By the way, for the second writer, our ownership is no longer NewsCorp and we have no connection with Fox News.)


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Racist language removed from history column

We ran a Since You Asked item earlier this month noting that in our Mail Tribune 100 column of century-old newspaper articles we omit racial references that are now considered offensive. A reader wrote to us questioning why that apparently included the word “negro” after it was excised from a reprinted story.

That wasn’t our intent, but on checking we found out that a young staff member who handles the column removed the word because he thought it was problematic. Probably a sign of the times — the word “negro” has certainly fallen into disuse, but is more an anachronism than an offensive term. It won’t be removed from future columns.

We haven’t found use of the truly offensive n-word in the 100-year-old stories. But there are terms for people of Japanese and Chinese descent that are no longer acceptable in any sort of company — polite or otherwise.

By the way, while we’re on the topic, the headline on the SYA — “Mail Tribune 100 edited for political correctness” — raised the hackles on a few folks in the newsroom. We do not consider parenthetically replacing racist words to be a matter of political correctness. The headline with the online version of the column was changed to more correctly read “Mail Tribune 100 edited for offensive language.”

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Morning plans changed in a hurry

I was on my way to a SMART reading session at Jackson School this morning when I heard that a bomb had been detonated outside the Jackson County DA’s office. I made a quick call to the office and discovered that our morning online reporter, Ryan Pfeil was all over it — had posted online, on Facebook, tweeted, shot video — keeping information flowing on all available lines.

In the several hours since the news changed my morning plans, we’ve posted several updates, probably sent out 100 tweets, posted to Facebook dozens of times, put up a variety of videos and a photo gallery. It’s a huge amount of information, sent out in ways we never imagined a few years ago, to audiences who might not ever see it if we published in print only.

And just a weird side note: Our initial coverage wound up as the lead news item on the website of the Voice of Russia. Digital media amplifies everything, while making the world smaller at the same time.



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We love our photos

We may be addicted to moving pictures — on TV, at the movies or on our tablets — but we’ve still got a connection to beautiful photographs. That’s evidenced by the Web traffic we get on a regular basis for photo galleries.

Unlike the preferences of print readers, which often remains a mystery to editors and researchers alike, the habits of online readers are reported daily (not what specific individuals read, but how many times a story was read or a photo looked at). That daily report shows up in my email early in the morning, telling me what was hot and what was not the previous day.

Typically, the  most-viewed topics online are photo galleries, sometimes from our staff but also often from readers who submit photos. This week is an example of the latter: a Fall Colors photo contest  for readers is a big hit, as evidenced by the 4,569 page views it received yesterday. Also popular was a gallery on “Wildlife in Lithia Park,” submitted by WR Young, a regular contributor to our reader photos. The wildlife gallery ended Monday with a 24-hour page view total of 3,343.

Check out all the reader photo galleries  on our website and you’ll see why so many people are hooked on the work of local community photographers.

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