Your chances of avoiding stories on the lottery are 1-in-175 million

Wednesday update: Jim Romenesko asks me a question.

Tuesday update: The Today Show comes through!

Assignment editors are sighing in relief. Just after the election — after a brief look at the fiscal cliff with all of its snore-inducing details — we got a series of reports on Thanksgiving, black Friday, local Saturday and cyber Monday (I refuse to capitalize them as if they are ….something). But what’s the next big cliched story we can cover?

A record $425 million jackpot in the Powerball lottery! Because we have more reporters than we know what to do with, let’s see now, we can assign reporters to:

* Interview people lining up to buy tickets.

* Review exactly what 1-in-175 million chance of winning actually means. (You don’t have a prayer.)

* Show graphically now many times 425,000,000 one dollar bills would stretch around the world.

* Remind readers/viewers of past winners and the good/bad luck they’ve had since winning.

* Interview that guy who gives what he calls tips on how to win the lottery.

Stop me if you’ve heard/read these stories before. Maybe even a few days ago when it was at $350 million or something.

Oh, wait. It has already started. We can only hope that someone wins it on Wednesday or we’ll get a new flock of stories. (I hope it’s me.)

Sunday sampler

By coincidence, many of the state’s front pages featured stories on the congressional races in their areas. Good. Those aren’t going to get much coverage unless they’re featured in the local paper.

Charlotte & Raleigh: The Observer and the News & Observer — which share political reporters — did a splashy takeout on the gubernatorial race. They didn’t play the stories by the individual reporters the same way, though. Charlotte ran separate profiles on each candidate on its front page. Raleigh published the profile on Walter Dalton and is saving the Pat McCrory profile for next Sunday. Assuming that Raleigh is going to publish the McCrory profile the Observer ran — written by an Observer reporter — that’s seems odd to me. But perhaps Raleigh is going to publish a different profile.











Asheville — The Citizen-Times takes on a topic I wish every media would tackle — negative ads. No one likes them except the political campaigns that insist they HAVE to do them because they work. Fine. Expose them for what they are.






Fayetteville — The Observer gives dominant play on its front page to the funeral service for a female Army staff sergeant killed in Afghanistan. The only reason I mention it is because the paper also gave front page prominence to the fact that the deceased’s spouse is also a female. Seems easy enough, but it apparently isn’t. The Observer made the right call.





Greensboro — The News & Record examines whether a local gang leader is a good guy or a bad guy. It’s tough to come to a firm conclusion about Jorge Cornell’s motives. Respectable people stand with and against him. My friend Robert Lopez does a fine write-through on him.

(Images courtesy of the Newseum.)


They didn’t know Titanic was a real event? So what?

OK, I’ll rise to the bait.

I can’t decide if the people mocking those on Twitter who didn’t know the sinking of Titanic was a real event are exercising their right to shout the equivalent of “Get off my lawn” or they simply enjoy lording their smarts over someone.

But it’s unseemly either way.

These folks tweeting about the movie are young. Let’s examine where they might learn the history of the sinking. Because they learned it in school? I doubt it’s taught there and if it is, it shouldn’t be, given everything else that missing from the curriculum. Because they read about it in the paper? As young people don’t read papers, there’s not much chance of that. Because they read it on their Facebook or Twitter feed? Those links may be about Titanic, but they’re about the movie, not about what happened 100 years ago. Because they saw it on TV? Reality television has taught us that you can’t believe “reality” just because it’s on TV.

I teach college students. There is a lot of history they don’t know. Not knowing everything is one reason they’re in school. They also know a lot about things I don’t know about. It’s OK. They’re teaching me.

Besides, Twitter is hardly “Foreign Affairs” or “The Economist.” Just venture over to the Trending Topics and you’ll see what I mean.

P.S. (This is different from the racist tweets about characters in the Hunger Games because, well, racism is different from not knowing.)

Doonesbury reminds me that I was wrong

I learned three rules about the comics page and readers when I was an editor:

Rule 1: Don’t mess with the comics for any reason, even if the cartoonist dies.

Rule 2: People want their comics to be funny to them. If the comic strip isn’t funny, or worse, seems inappropriate to them, then it should be pulled.

Rule 3: When faced with Rule 1 and Rule 2, you’re screwed.

Now comes the latest Doonesbury kerfuffle, this time over this week’s worth of comic strips about abortion, Texas and Virginia. Jim Romenesko explains each day’s strip.

Among North Carolina’s larger papers, the News & Observer and the Charlotte Observer are running the strip; the News & Record and the Winston-Salem Journal are not.

This is another topic I have flipped on since I left the business. As an editor, I would have substituted the strip, saying something to the effect that I don’t mind publishing something that will make people mad, but I’d just as soon it be a news story rather than a comic strip. I don’t need to spend even a minute fielding phone calls from outraged people who say they have to shield their 8-year-olds from the comics page.

Now, as a reader, I feel cheated. Doonesbury is an institution and by this time, you know what you’re going to get. Doonesbury is The Daily Show on the comics page. When people would complain that they didn’t like a particular strip, I would say, “That’s OK. We don’t expect people to like every comic we print. That’s why we publish two dozen of them with different styles and tones. You can pick and choose.”

I wish I had listened to myself and let readers pick and choose. I’d pick Doonesbury.

Here’s Garry Trudeau on why he did the sequence.

Local newspaper ownership

Jim Romenesko pointed to a story yesterday by a former Philadelphia Inquirer reporter about the possible sale of the Philadelphia newspapers to a group including Ed Rendell, former governor of Pennsylvania. Paul Davies writes: In short, you can’t have a former mayor, governor and head of the Democratic National Committee involved in a legitimate newspaper—especially one with such deep ties to some of the region’s most powerful and influential institutions such as the University of Pennsylvania, Ballard Spahr and Comcast, where Rendell’s friend and former chief of staff David L. Cohen still casts a long shadow.

It reminded me of a few years ago when the News & Record was actively on the selling block. I heard persistent rumors of that two separate groups, both headed by wealthy, influential community leaders were considering buying the paper. I won’t name them because I have no direct knowledge that the rumors were anything more than rumors. But I dreaded the possibility of either owning the paper for the same reason Davies warns — the loss of editorial independence.
I knew one of the rumored buyers well because he frequently called to note what he considered oversights the newspaper made in covering important, positive community events. Events, by the way, in which he had a direct hand in. I didn’t know the other buyer personally, but I heard that he was interested in beefing up our positive coverage of the business community and sporting events. He was involved in both of those areas.
In the rosy memories of many, local ownership is a wonderful thing. The owner cares about the health of both the newspaper and the community. But the only way that benefits both is if the owner understands that his allegiance is to independent journalism first.

What would you do, elaborated

Jim Romenesko got enough comments about my “What would you do?” post that he collected some of them and posted that today. (Thank you, Jim, for the traffic and inspired discussion.)

The comments at Jim’s and on my original post reveal more anger than I anticipated, but I wasn’t sure how to respond without seeming defensive or out of touch. (I’m neither, really.)

I don’t think it is any mystery why newspaper staffers aren’t reading the paper or using the paper’s website. The mystery is why so many publishers and editors aren’t acting quickly and forcefully to go to where the people are. Newspapers employ many smart, savvy people. The journalists on staff are used to speaking truth to power. Perhaps they have some helpful suggestions if asked.

I’m sorry I wasn’t clearer with the original post.

Fortunately, Matt DeRienzo, group editor at Journal Register publications in Connecticut and a leader in moving print to digital, further analyzed the comments for me:

After seeing the comments here and on Romenesko’s Facebook page, I think there is confusion here between two separate issues:

– Employee apathy toward or disengagement from the journalism you’re doing.

– Institutional ignorance of the sea change in consumer behavior, including the consumers in your own building.

I sent this post out to my newsroom staff in Connecticut, and got a lot of replies thinking I was scolding them for not being a print subscriber or buying newspaper classified ads (answer  to both – they can’t afford it and web and Craig’s List are free). My point in sending, of course, was that we need to get over denial of disruption in these areas and trust our own instincts as consumers to guide a both-feet jump into “digital first.”