The next edition

A lot of questions sent our way by the worried and the wondering following the announcement that the Mail Tribune and Daily Tidings have been sold to an investment group and will be managed by GateHouse Media. At this point, we don’t have a lot of answers.

GateHouse — which has 400-some newspapers and other publications —  is apparently ready to declare bankruptcy any day, which raises the question of why they would be in the market for buying more newspapers. It looks like a Harry & David situation — the core business is doing OK, but debt is weighing it down. So its position stands to improve after the bankruptcy smoke clears.

An ownership change in any business sends a shiver through the ranks of the employees and it’s no different here. People are worried about what the future will bring and, right now, there’s a lot more we don’t know than we do know.

Whatever happens on Wall Street or in the corporate headquarters is beyond our power to affect, so my philosophy is to take charge of the things you can control and do the best possible job you can for the business, the employees and the community.

As our publisher said, we’re glad to be associated with an organization that focuses on community newspapers. That’s a better fit for us than News Corp, where Rupert Murdoch and his team are focused on much bigger fish in a much bigger pond. Good luck to them — and good-bye.

Hope you’ll stick with us through this ride. Not sure exactly where we’re going yet, but we plan to make the most of the trip.

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Farewell to a friend

Relatives and friends of former Mail Tribune Editor John Reid said their goodbyes last night at a memorial service in Ashland. It says a lot about John that there were numerous former co-workers in attendance and that we all counted ourselves in the friend category.
John was a great editor — any success the Mail Tribune has had in the past 30 years was built on the foundation he laid. Beyond that, he was a great boss and friend to a lot of us.
John went through so much, battling Parkinson’s disease for more than 30 years. But, as his daughters wrote in his obituary, while the disease greatly affected his life, it did not define it. His life was defined by the love of his family, his work, his poetry — and even the occasionally spectacular steelhead he caught on his fly rod.
I said in a news story about John’s passing that he was “a good guy.” That doesn’t seem enough and, yet, it says a lot about the kind of person he was and what he meant to the people around him.

Godspeed, John.

 

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The electronic newspaper in 1981

The online newspaper has become as commonplace as the home computer, but it wasn’t always so. Check out this now-funny story about some of the first electronic newspapers, circa 1981. Also note that even the home computer was anything but commonplace back then.

 

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Long (interrupted) weekend

Long weekends are appreciated by almost everyone — the almost is attached to people who have to work them or to newspaper editors and reporters who have to fill pages regardless of whether the rest of the world is on vacation and not answering or returning phone calls.

So, happy Monday! The rest of the world is back after what was four days off for many. People are answering their phones and all is right with the world. Well, OK, I agree, we’d all rather be on vacation. But if we’re here trying to gather news, it’s a bit comforting that have the expectation that the people we call will actually pick up the phone.

And for those of you who were working over the past several days and did return our phone calls, thanks. We couldn’t have done it without you.

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Who’ll stop the rain?

Tuesday morning’s paper and web weather report noted that total precipitation locally was 0.04 inches for the previous 24-hour period and 0.17 inches for the month of June so far.

That’s notable, because most people spent the weekend and Monday casting anxious looks at the western hills, waiting for the monsoon to arrive. Weather sites, from the pages of our paper to the for-profit weather forecasters like the Weather Channel and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (the feds), predicted the delivery of anywhere from a half-inch to 2 inches of rain. What we got were a lot of clouds, some sprinkles and a brief amount of honest-to-goodness rain on Monday morning.

News reporters (well, the good ones anyway) don’t like to report “maybe-facts” — you know, those facts that may be right, but we’re not totally sure. And yet we all engage in the weather forecasting game. Probably have better odds at being right on the weather than on hitting the big one at your local Purple Parrot, but, nevertheless, it’s a crap shoot here in the Rogue Valley.

Blame it on our proximity to the coast, the mountain ranges in the area or maybe the Vortex, but a lot of the forecasts are not exactly spot on. Typically, it seems, the weather in the Rogue Valley turns out better than forecast.

For those of us who had outdoor projects or recreation planned over the past few days, we’re not exactly broken-hearted over the inexact forecasts. Probably selfish on our parts — after all, the folks in Klamath could use a little of the wet stuff right about now.

And, with 90-plus weather headed our way (“allegedly headed our way”?) we may all soon be praying for rain.

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What you’re reading

Back in the days of dinosaurs — that is, before the Internet — newspapers used to go through elaborate exercises to figure out what people were reading. We did surveys, we tracked national data, we even gave readers  markers and asked them to mark the stories they read and how far into each story they read. And for all that, we still felt like we were groping through a shadowy room.

The mystery may still remain when it comes to print, but there’s no doubt what people are reading online — because it’s tracked daily by the computers that readers use to access the stories (don’t worry, this is not some NSA op, we only get a count of what’s been read, not who’s doing the reading).

I’ve got disappointing news for those of you who were sure readers gravitate toward the cerebral news or news about the pressing political, social and fiscal issues of our day. Nope: They like pictures, crime news and obituaries. The figures don’t lie.

During the week, we get about 20,000 “unique visitors” to our site and they typically view 80,000 to 100,000 pages. (Nice to know you’re unique, eh?) Just as an example of what they are reading, here are the top items, in order, from the past two days:

Tuesday: Medford Cruise photo gallery, Justified use of force, obituaries, Highway 62 rollover, Police chief recommends liquor license denial, Barney’s Burgers fire, video of failed assault, Medical marijuana suspects face new charges.

Wednesday: Medford Cruise photo gallery, obituaries, Arson at Barney’s Burgers, Hedrick monitor fired for wanting to carry gun to school, Bank robbery suspect arrested, Emergency Services listing, weather, Former Medford man arrested on child sex crime charges.

To be fair to the stories about car crashes, bank robberies and child abuse arrests, the photo galleries have a distinct advantage, If there are 20 photos in a gallery and a reader looks at all 20, that counts as 20 page views. But they are very popular: On Tuesday, readers viewed just under 9,000 photos from the Cruise alone.

Strange, the editor’s blog didn’t show up on Most Viewed list. I guess I need to add more crime topics — or maybe photos of my car.

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No coffee pot in the newsroom?

Last week we had our old Bunn coffee maker hauled out of the newsroom. It was one of those industrial models that stored a tank of hot water so you could produce a pot quickly, but it had been so long since anyone used it that I don’t even want to think what was growing in the tank.

So it’s gone and in its place is — nothing. Hard as it is to imagine for most newsroom denizens, past and present, we no longer have a newsroom coffee pot.

That doesn’t mean there’s not caffeine flowing through our veins at troubling levels. But that caffeine tends to come from coffee purchased at Dutch Bros or Mellelo’s (or Human Bean or Good Bean or Bad Ass — the caffeine-opportunity list goes on and on). Some staffers come to work clutching a thermos or mug filled with home brew, while others have gone even further beyond the bounds of normal newsroom behavior and partake of green tea or chai.

We all know the world of journalism has been changing dramatically in recent years. I guess I could get nostalgic over the good ol’ days of the newsroom coffee klatch, but then I remember what that tin-can coffee tasted like and realize I’m happy to embrace the new reality.

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A valedictorian responds

I wrote in this blog last week that the numbers of valedictorians at a few local high schools caused some raised eyebrows. In particular, I noted that South Medford has 21 valedictorians.

Over the weekend, I received a reply from one of those 21 valedictorians, Brianna Levesque, which I’ll share below. Her writing and arguments as presented in her email are evidence aplenty that she is a worthy valedictorian. As I said in my previous blog, I suspect all 21 of South’s valedictorians will go on to be successful people, because regardless of which classes they took, they all had to be smart and hard-working students to emerge after four years with nothing but A’s. But other schools, including North Medford, now weight their classes, so students like Brianna who have 4.0 GPAs after taking the toughest classes are recognized for taking on that challenge.

In sending her email, Brianna pointed out to me that portions of my blog were referred to in a much longer blog post by Bill Briggs on an NBC News website. He examines the  trend of  larger numbers of valedictorians nationally and also points out some interesting details about how seriously colleges consider the valedictorian title (not so seriously) versus how seriously parents consider it (serious enough to file lawsuits over B grades).

Here’s Brianna’s email response to both blogs:

I am one of the valedictorians; I am actually the one determined “first in class” who will give the first in class address at graduation. I have taken 9 AP Exams, am involved in Cross Country, Leadership, the musical, first place Academic Challenge and Brain Bowl teams, have helped start a Harry Potter club, etc. I have driven over to North Medford this year to take Calculus 2.

And you know what’s great? As involved as I am, and as rigorous as my course load has been, I had not even known I would be first in class because the same level of excellence has been exhibited by my fellow valedictorians. They are just as deserving as me. Nobody has the right to criticize our accomplishments and our intellect — our character! — and furthermore, the capability of our beloved teachers, until they are familiar with our backgrounds, achievements and educational experiences!

However, we find solace in the fact that we know how we have challenged ourselves; we know the knowledge we have accumulated these four years and the blood, sweat and tears we have invested in our education.  Although we are all dedicated students, many of us are also unashamedly nerdy. We make jokes about integrals. We invest a score of hours in creating mousetrap engineering cars. We sing about the electromagnetic spectrum. We fan girl over Austen, and critique Dickens. We are undoubtedly prepared to be competitive in the collegiate world, because we have taken many college-level courses already and developed a love of learning!

The title of valedictorian is given to those who achieve a 4.0 at our school. The first in class speaker is determined by AP, honors and advanced language classes. The term “valedictorian” is a personal honor, and those who receive it have a special role in graduation. We are not informed of our valedictorian status until fourth quarter, long after we have applied and been accepted to colleges.

What they said in the article is true: there is no animosity between our 21 valedictorians. Our greatest competition has been with ourselves, and we look forward to celebrating our graduation with each other and the 300 other students with whom we will graduate this week. On Saturday, our joy will not be diminished. Our hard work and humility will remain with us, and we will be strong in the face of the obstacles we will undeniably face in the years to come. Our lights will not go out.

Thankfully, we each have what has been a wonderful educational (and personal!) experience at SMHS to propel us forward and allow us to pursue our chosen future endeavors to make a positive mark on the world; this is something for which we, and society, should be immensely grateful — and celebrate rather than question.

 

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… and all the children are above average

We are preparing to run our annual collection of local valedictorians in this Sunday’s paper.
We’ve been doing this for several years now and it seems like the least we could do for the kids who finish at the top of their respective classes. (Nice to know if you get a 4.0 you’ll get your name in the paper at least once — after all, someone who can throw a football or baseball will probably see their name on a fairly regular basis.)

I was just looking at the file, which is mostly, but not entirely, complete. It’s 159 inches long, just the text, before photos are added. Each of the items on the valedictorians is fairly short (we also plan to do some longer features on a few graduates), so the length of the story is a bit surprising.

But easily explained: Many of the 15 high schools represented in the story have one or two or three valedictorians. But Ashland has 10, North Medford has 10 and South Medford has … drum roll … 21. Hmmm.

As the parent of a former valedictorian — who also was one of several — I know that getting a 4.0 is no small accomplishment. Every valedictorian is no doubt a hard worker and quite smart, perhaps some are even brilliant. They all deserve credit for their academic records.

But 21 valedictorians? Raises some eyebrows, as well as questions about grade inflation. Again, the kids with 4.0′s deserve the recognition and will likely to go on to do great things. No one can take the valedictorian label away from them — but perhaps it doesn’t mean as much when it’s shared with 20 other students.

 

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Happy holidays? Not so much

Who doesn’t enjoy a three-day weekend? Well, maybe a newspaper city editor, who has to fill up a string of newspapers with a reduced staff and, often, reduced news events.

In advance of a typical two-day weekend, Friday is a hectic day, with a variety of stories being written and edited not only for the next day’s paper, but also for Sunday and Monday. Breaking news is still covered as it happens, but filling up the weekend’s editions also requires a lot of advance stories.

That task grows on a three-day weekend, when a good portion of four days’ worth of content has to be written, edited and scheduled by Friday. That means for the city editor (and sports editor, too) a lot of advance planning to ensure there’s enough copy to make it through to the other side.

Some might ask, why not just schedule more people to work the weekends, so you’re not so crunched?Two basic reasons we don’t do that, the principal one being that despite all the activities of the weekend, there’s not that much news. The newsmakers are off, councils, school board and legislators are not meeting and major announcements are either delivered before the weekend or after it, when more people will read or see them. There are only so many stories you can write about the weekend farmers’ market or the events at the Expo. The second reason: Like everyone, our staff hopes to spend time with their families and friends.

(I should note here that for Sports, Memorial Day is anything but lacking in news. In fact there’s too much, from soccer tournaments, to state baseball and softball playoffs and the state high school track meet, Boatnik — the list is longer than our ability to cover it all.)

Memorial Day weekend is also a bit easier than other long weekends to find news because of the various ceremonies and the interesting stories about veterans. And it seems there are always compelling photo opportunities, which our photographers do a wonderful job of capturing.

We head into every holiday with a bit of trepidation, but somehow we always seem to survive, none the worse for wear. Well, except perhaps for the city editor, who may need a few days to recover.

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