It#8217;s getting hot around here

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 3, 2006

Sure is hot out. Think its global warming? Hope it doesn’t kill us all.

It got pretty hot here in cybersuffolk last week.

That’s natural, of course, when you have emotional issues transpiring like we had. Most of the vitriol was aimed at this site’s proprietor, and it wasn’t confined to just comments posted here. The phone lines were also buzzing.


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Much of the anguish expressed was over the announcement we posted Wednesday afternoon after City Council adopted a resolution to terminate the contract of the city manager. It was only on the Web site for three or four hours. For those of you who missed it, a reduced version appears at the right.

Here’s how that image came to be: Earlier in the day, our sister paper in Ahoskie, the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, covered the shooting death of a prisoner at the Northampton County (N.C.) Courthouse.

Cal Bryant, the editor there, alerted Managing Editor Doug Grant to the event and said other Hampton Roads area media outlets were calling him wanting information so he was going to send the story to us, too. Cal’s a nice guy.

Doug and I went to to check out what Cal was talking about. They had the headline about the shooting and above it, flashing in big red letters, it said “Breaking News.” Doug and I thought that was cool. We knew we might have a big story coming up that afternoon so I talked to the Ahoskie production folks about how they did that. They sent me a copy of the gif image they had created, but posting it was beyond me.

When council did the deed, I came back to the office and wanted to get it up on the site. Since I couldn’t do the cool breaking news thing, I decided to try to dress it up as best I could and try to make it look like something important happened.

And, in the world of the Suffolk News-Herald, the city manager getting fired is as big as the news gets. It’s the equivalent to us as what Richard Nixon’s resignation was to the New York Times and Washington Post, for example. I’m not comparing the situations, just the magnitude of the story.

I had done the same thing the Wednesday before when Linda Johnson was elected Mayor, creating an image and getting up on the Web site before the normal production schedule.

Normally, each day after we send the last page of the paper to our printer and then before leaving for the day, Doug will go through and post the stories to the Web site. Then, he will either hit the publish button or just leave and let the site automatically update at 1 a.m.

Last Wednesday, Doug had to leave early so I finished up the paper. When I got done, I just hit publish and the new stuff went up, overriding what had been put up earlier. I’m sure to the chagrin of some who called, nobody told me to take it down and reprimanded me. In fact, I think my position is pretty secure, at least for today.

I relate all this here because I like to be as upfront as I can about why or how we do the things we do. A community newspaper, and I suppose its Web site, are quasi-public utilities and I try to stress to folks here that we are accountable to those who read us, including me.

That’s how things went down last Wednesday. Regardless of what you might think, there was no sinister effort to smear the city manager, just an effort to impart to anyone who might look at the site that something important had happened in their town that day and they should buy the newspaper the next day to get the whole story.

I’d appreciate your feedback on how we handled it. I’m not so arrogant to think that I do everything correctly, but we’re breaking new ground here, folks. I believe most Web users expect a little edgier content on their computer than they get from their conservative old newspaper. But if I made a mistake, you can bet it wasn’t the first one that day. I tried to create a graphic under deadline pressure. I may well have overdone and obviously did to some folks’ taste.