Putting more substance in your hometown paper

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 20, 2004

I was having lunch with a salesman Friday afternoon.

She had paid a visit to Suffolk to convince me that our vision of the Suffolk News-Herald’s mission was not the right one – that, and that I should continue paying the thousands of dollars we pay her firm each year for their service.

And their service is excellent. The Associated Press does a wonderful job of providing reliable, timely news from the war in Iraq, the presidential election, major league baseball, etc. However, it’s not for me, nor do I think should it be for the Suffolk News-Herald.

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Hampton Roads is served well by a pair of quality metropolitan newspapers – The Virginian-Pilot and The Daily Press. If it’s news of Iraq, national elections, the G-8 Summits or whatever you are looking for, I highly recommend those newspapers – along with CNN, Fox News, NPR, MSNBC, CNBC, the Internet, CBS, NBC, ABC, Time, Newsweek, U.S. News and World Report, or any of the dozens of media available to you literally at the flick of a switch 24 hours a day, seven days a week, any and all of which can provide you with more depth on those issues than can the News-Herald. That’s their ballpark. We cannot compete with them there.

And we do compete with them. Not so much for advertising or circulation dollars as much as for your time, the most precious thing any of us have. And it seems to be dwindling all the time.

With families and jobs and social activities and homes to upkeep, few of us have more than minutes a day to spend reading newspapers or watching or listening to news. It’s those precious moments of your day for which we are all competing.

Our ballpark is the 430 square miles of Suffolk, Va. To be successful, and to better serve the needs of our readers and the progress of our community, The Suffolk News-Herald needs to devote 100 percent of its attention and news space to covering Suffolk.

And not just what goes on at city council, but the hopes, dreams, accomplishments and milestones of our lives, as well as the issues that we, as Suffolkians, have a stake in.

Reader Nancy Howell Peace came by the office recently to provide us with information on the Suffolk High School Class of 1954’s 50th reunion.

&uot;I just love this newspaper,&uot; she gushed as she talked about how much she likes to read Times Past and the stories about people she knows.

She also had a complaint. She flipped to our Sunday Community page and pointed out three large photos of some type of kindergarten pageant next to small, one-column shots of engagements and anniversaries.

&uot;These are huge moments in the lives of these people,&uot; she said. &uot;I wish you would run those pictures bigger.&uot;

And she was absolutely right. The aforementioned newspapers run those photos small, so that they can devote more space to Iraq, Washington and Richmond and somewhere along the way someone at the News-Herald adopted the same philosophy. That’s one of the things we will change. A marriage or birth is typically the biggest event in someone’s life and the News-Herald needs to treat it as such.

I had Ms. Peace in mind Friday when I told my lunchmate, &uot;If I can’t provide a real alternative to what the big papers do, simply regurgitating the same lame content, (and presenting less of it for the same price), then I’ve got no reason to be in business.&uot;

At the time, I thought I was merely countering her argument, but the words have stuck with me and I think they make a lot of sense.

So beginning around July 1, you’re going to see a new Suffolk News-Herald. There will be changes in our content. Some things you are accustomed to seeing will no longer be there. If that’s a mistake, I’ll just have to live with it and it won’t be the first one I’ve made today. And the money we save on those features we can invest in our employees and local news efforts.

I suspect, even pray, that there are a lot of people out there like Nancy Howell Peace, who look to the Suffolk News-Herald for news about Suffolk, because that’s what they are going to get.

Andy Prutsok is editor and publisher of the News-Herald. He can be reached at 934-9611, or via e-mail at andy.Prutsok@suffolknewsherald.com.