Thursday, December 13, 2007

Dead deer, live puppies and the regionals

An ode of appreciation to all who work with regional publications.

I dipped into a little live production yesterday while hiding in the CCI war room. I resized some kid pictures and also resized a puppy who needed a home.
It was the the only "cute" moment of my day, soliciting an out-loud "awww" from my colleagues.
That's the secret of regional work, and we can become immune to too many puppies, reader-submitted Christmas cards and cute kids after awhile. Walk away for a bit and come back, and you realize the emotional appeal of those sections. Leslie said the human highlight of her day yesterday was judging reader-submitted Christmas card entries, for the main paper.
Steve Yelvington posted back in March about the importance of asking readers to share their pictures of their dead deer and big fish and how many papers are doing it wrong.
"The typical suburban operation is uninspired and under-resourced, staffed by editors who are just going through the motions and reporters who are either at the very beginning or the very end of their careers. The zones are far too large. To fill columns and get pages down to the plateroom, editors pick up stories from adjacent zones.
Boring. Lifeless. No people you know. No dead deer."

Well, not in Charlotte. We'll never have enough staffers, of course, but we are doing many things right.
We're lucky to have staffers who understand that community good will and strong ties are important if we want trust and sources when we need to ask hard questions and do hard stories. It's not just about advertising.
Yelvington quoted Mary Lou Montgomery, who edits the Morris-owned Hannibal (Mo.) Courier-Post, who changed the way her paper handled such news when she realized the paper was losing touch with readers. Before the change, she said about her paper:

We don’t do dead deer. (We do in Charlotte, but we try to avoid putting dead deer next to cute kids).
We don’t use Polaroid pictures. (No, but we do use digital family snapshots).
We don’t print long lists of names, such as those attending a reunion. (We do in Charlotte, but we often don't boldface the names).
We don’t use pictures without accompanying names. (Well, uh, sometimes we do).
We stopped inviting pictures of the first mushroom finds of the year. (We do odd vegetables, even in the main features section).
We stopped taking pictures of the pee-wee league ball players. (Right, but we run readers' team snapshots.)
We started downplaying the beauty pageants and baby contests. (We do the debutantes, and sometimes the young women are our colleagues' children).
We stopped printing happy birthday pictures of children as part of the news package. (Never have done them. Should we?)
We stopped paying correspondents to submit “chicken dinner” news. (Well, "pay" might not be the right word).
We stopped taking pictures of newly elected club officers. (We run reader snapshots).
We stopped describing wedding gowns. (You have us there).

So amid all the buzz about "new" citizen journalism and engaging readers, we can say we've been doing some things right. For a long time. As we slog through voluminous Scrapbook files, we should remember the work is about keeping community ties strong, so we can do the big stories with credibility and trust, with our community members understanding we care about their whole lives.
Sometimes innovation is about recognizing traditional work with continuing value in a fast-changing world. Thanks to all who slog in regionals.

Cute puppies courtesy of doxieone.

1 comment:

Leslie Wilkinson said...

Christmas cards were by far the best part of my workday (except for the glitter factor). But what a joy to look at all this precious artwork. Thanks to the teachers who make the Observer Holiday Card contest part of their lessons and to the families who have made the cards part of their season. I think we ended up with more than 600 cards, one of the best turnouts we've ever had.

We'll be publishing a card a day on the 7 days leading up to Christmas. More will likely run in the Carolina Living section. And, we'll have at least 20 cards a day up online.