‘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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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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