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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‘The Grizzwells’ vs. ‘Rose is Rose’

“Danger! Danger!”

I know my warning alerts should be going off at full volume right now, but I’m forging ahead nonetheless, possibly taking on the most dangerous editorial task of all, changing comic strips. Against my better judgment, here goes:

We’re thinking about switching out a current Mail Tribune cartoon, “Rose is Rose,” and replacing it with “The Grizzwells,” (he said, ducking under his desk).

“The Grizzwells” centers on a family of four bears and their various furry friends of the woods. It’s safe for the whole family and even more important, seems to be consistently funny, a good attribute for the funny pages.

We’ve carried “Rose is Rose,” for a number of years and there’s a sentiment among some readers that it’s bit of a one- or two-trick pony that just isn’t that funny. Now everyone’s tastes differ, so I’m not here to say that if you’re a “Rose” fan you’ve got an odd sense of humor. (Even if that’s what I’m thinking.)

So what do you think? Check out “The Grizzwells” (you can look at previous cartoons by clicking on the calendar icon. Then check out “Rose is Rose.”  There’s an option to view additional strips by clicking a button below the cartoon that’s shown.

So give it a try and let me know, either in the comment field below or on Facebook by going to “Bob Hunter, Mail Tribune editor.”

Then let me know when it’s safe to come out from under my desk.

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The real crisis in Oregon

Amid all the head shaking about the federal congressional impasse,  a bigger issue seems to be brewing in some folks’ minds: Our “bias” for the Oregon Ducks over the Oregon State Beavers.

Exhibit A: Sunday’s sports pages, in which the Ducks not only got top billing, but also had two color photos and two lengthy stories, while the Beavers got one small photo and a single, shorter story that had no quotes in it.

Well, we suggest you take your case up with the PAC-12 conference and the TV stations. While the Ducks are ranked No. 2 in the nation and will continue to get a lot of attention for that, the real culprit in the difference in the coverage was the difference in the game times.

When a game is played at 1 p.m. (Oregon vs. Washington), there’s plenty of time to gather quotes, photos, sidebars, stats and still make a Saturday night deadline. When the game starts at 7:30 p.m. (OSU vs. Washington State), that luxury vanishes. Our sports crew is waiting for an Associated Press story to arrive so they can get done and make our press start deadline. Not a lot of time — none in fact — for extras.

It didn’t help that the Beavers and  Cougs threw 108 passes in the game. Sixty-four were caught, six intercepted and 38 fell incomplete. That’s 44 clock stoppages, not counting the time outs that occurred for the 51 first downs that mostly came after the completed passes.

I watched the OSU game to the end (OK, there might have been a nap in the middle), but don’t remember what time it finished. Must have been around 11.

And that leads to less time and less coverage. No bias here folks (especially by our OSU alum sports editor). It’s just a matter of time, or in this case, lack of time.

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‘Your Money’ is back

Mea culpa: We’ve brought back the Sunday ‘Your Money’ pages, which feature personal finance stories and tips. It’s an improvement, I think, over The Wall Street Journal pages we’ve been running for the past year and a half. But we did it Sunday with no advance notice — and not even any explanation in Sunday’s paper, which was my fault. My apologies.

We’ve felt — and had readers tell us — that the WSJ pages were often off-the-mark, with a more East Coast, urban focus. Our goal in building our own pages is to instead focus primarily on what everyday people can do with their money and assets to be more financially secure.

The move also comes after our parting from Dow Jones, publisher of The Wall Street Journal. When we were with DJ, there wasn’t a requirement that we use those pages, but there did seem to be some expectation.

Reader may also have noticed that the Sunday paper is now four sections, instead of five. That doesn’t mean we lost all those pages: We made the A section two pages larger and the C section two pages larger, which actually gives us some needed flexibility in handling the  news. The biggest savings for us is that it no longer requires an early press run to print the fifth section.

Some changes that deserve explanations: Next time I’ll try to do it before it happens, rather than after.

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We know what’s being read, not always why

While we often have to guess what stories newspaper readers are looking at, there’s no such doubt when it comes to online. We get daily reports on the number of page views and visitors to our website (no NSA spying going on here — we just know what’s being read, not who’s reading it).

But sometimes we’re stumped about “why” certain stories are being read. We had a couple of online successes in the past two weeks that were head-scratchers at first, but eventually made some kind of perverse sense:

1. A story about a state geologist coming to talk about the Big One (earthquake) that’s going to hit in the Northwest at some point. Turns out we assumed people understood the  “at some point” aspect (perhaps as long as 75 years from now) of the story because we had written about it repeatedly. Apparently we were wrong and some people decided the Big One was imminent. That story and a follow-up on the actual talk generated about 400,000 page views.

2. A story we ran last week about early snowfall at Crater Lake (8” of snow) apparently turned into a see-I-told-you-so moment for global warming doubters. After it was picked up by the Drudge Report, we had about 60,000 additional visitors to our website in two days, generating about 150,000 additional page views.

A story about the county getting an estimated $3.5 million in federal timber-related funds to shore up its dwindling coffers had 233 page views yesterday.

Just saying.

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The public’s right to know

We prevailed in our argument with the city of Medford over release of its severance package with ousted fire Chief Dave Bierwiler — well, at least we prevailed in the order issued  Monday by District Attorney Beth Heckert. She said the financial details of the severance package are public record and must be released. The city has seven days to follow her order or to notify her and us that they intend to pursue it in court.

I certainly hope they don’t push the issue further, because I can’t imagine what should be more public than the amount of money public agencies are paying to employees, former employees or anyone, for that matter. After all, that money is not theirs, it’s all of ours. Thus the word “public.”

The city  is fooling no one by claiming release of the figures would be a privacy violation. Bierwiler has said twice on the record that he has no problem with the figures being released. That suggests the only privacy the city is trying to protect is its own, perhaps because it’s uncomfortable in having to write a big check to a longtime employee who was abruptly let go for reasons that were never divulged.

Holding governments accountable on public records and public meetings issues is a core principle for us. We don’t always win and we don’t always make friends in the process. But there is no outside agency that monitors compliance on such matters. It usually takes a member of the public or a new organization to raise a hand and say,”Wait a minute.”

We did that in this case and it appears it will pay off in by notifying our city government that it needs to do the public’s business in public and not behind closed doors.


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