How to report the news, May 13, 2005

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 14, 2005

I feel like I’ve let readers of this blog (About 1,000 unique visitors a week, according to our stats).

I almost wish Web master Michael Curbelo had not provided me with that number. When I thought nobody was reading this there was less pressure.

I’ve just not had anything of any significance to write about. You see, my boss has been in town and we’ve been shut up in a room with projectors and spreadsheets plotting strategy. As such, I’m left with nothing to provide.

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I spent many years as a reporter before making the transition to the dark side (management and advertising). Early on I found that you can’t report news from your desk. You had to be out in the community – almost all the time – talking to people, attending meetings and events. That’s how you find news, not by sitting at your desk calling people on the phone. Then you’re not reporting news, just what people tell you. You’re not witnessing the events, adding descriptions, conveying emotion. You can’t do that via telephone interviews. You have

to look people in the eye.

Rotary meetings are a great source of material. It’s about the one time during the week when I get to talk to people and eavesdrop on the conversations of others. I didn’t get to go this week. I haven’t been to any meetings, groundbreakings, ribbon cuttings or even had lunch at a local restaurant.

I feel like Jerry Seinfeld on that episode where he was to appear on the Charles Grodin and he had no material and was relying on George’s fianc/e’s friend to bring him the barbecue sauce from Memphis that had the guy on the bottle who looked like Grodin.

&uot;I’ve got nothing,&uot; he said.

That’s not entirely true, I suppose. I do have a couple things that came out of my meeting with my most.

He hates what I did to our classified pages. We had been unhappy with the header on our classified page for some time. It was thrown together in haste without a lot of thought and it showed. Managing editor Luefras Robinson a couple months back attended a newspaper design seminar put on by the Virginia Press Association in Richmond and brought back loads of great materials from the expert speaker – samples from large newspapers he had redesigned.

We all liked the classified header from a paper in the Midwest that showed a different scenic photo from the community each day. I assigned each person on our news staff to shoot 10 scenic photos in a week so that we could have enough to do it for a month.

We started running the photos about two weeks ago. It’s just not working either.

In my boss’ opinion, and I’m afraid he’s correct, we need to get to back to basics and in our classified header feature prominently the basic information people need in order to place a good classified ad that sells. I forgot that we’re here to help you move your unwanted stuff, not to look pretty. We’ll be dropping the photos as soon as I can get something functional designed.

I don’t mind making a mistake. I was told once the only people who don’t make mistakes are the people who aren’t doing anything. Unfortunately, unlike most people, our mistakes are on display for thousands of people each day.

There were several other minor design flaws that were pointed out to me. It’s nothing I didn’t know already, just sometimes you get too close to something and you’re blinded to some of your faults, which is easy to do when you have as many as I.