Only one year

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The publisher asked me a week or so ago, “So what are you doing in your paper to mark your first anniversary?” I shrugged and said, “Maybe I’ll write a short commentary to run as a second editorial.”

Then I looked at the editorial that ran in our first issue. It contained a promise that, after having laid out our goals there, we’d never again waste space writing about ourselves under that heading.

I really had not planned on doing anything, except writing about our first year in this column a week after our anniversary issue, because Deb Foster’s column appeared in this space then. I don’t like newspapers that pay more attention to themselves than the communities they serve. Self-promotion doesn’t fit into my idea of good journalism.

I did run a box on page four last week reporting the awards this newspaper won at the New York Press Association convention. There’s self-promotion in that, I admit, but it’s also legitimate news. A newspaper that has loyal readers is part of the community. When it is honored among all the state’s papers, that’s interesting and relevant, I hope.

Winning those Press Association awards is a real crapshoot. The judges, editors and publishers from another state sit in a motel one weekend during the winter and wade through thousands of submissions. They have to make snap judgments to get their work done.

We were somewhat surprised that a year-in-review supplement that the Press newspaper group put together to appear the last week of the year won first place for “best special section.” Its purpose—to take a look back in some way at the year just ending—was clear. But none of us quite understood what the editorial approach of the supplement was supposed to be.

That made it very hard to plan. Executive Editor Joe Shaw led the charge and pulled it off but I don’t think any of us expected it would garner high praise. What do we know? Judges from the North Carolina Press Association thought it was marvelous.

For all the head scratching I’ve done over the years for prizes my papers have won or not won, I do think the prizes this newspaper won made a lot of sense. This is an especially good looking paper and it won first place for overall design excellence. We often have a lot of really good photos and we won first place for photographic excellence. And I think the editorial section, which includes our opinion columns, editorials, editorial photos, letters and overall layout, is a good one. It won first place for best editorial pages.

We did not win much for our coverage: one third-place award for coverage of education and another third-place award for converage of the arts. And that makes sense. I think our coverage has been good—clear, balanced, interesting and generally quite thorough—but I wouldn’t categorize it as groundbreaking.

There have been some exceptions. We were the first to obtain and report the results of the 2006 town audit and our lead story that week was all about the town’s big budget deficit. We followed up with an in-depth analysis. It was annoying, later, to hear people credit the other papers for reporting the news first.

We were very cautious during last fall’s campaign when it came to Republican charges that the McGintee administration was making a mess of town finances. We did not have the time or staff to confirm the charges. So we waited for the audit. Meanwhile, we fully reported the charges as accusations, made during a political campaign, not as facts we had confirmed. Some newspapers don’t make that distinction or they lose it under the weight of huge headlines and splashy leads.

Recently we’ve been attacked for supporting Mr. McGintee last fall and failing to criticize him earlier than we did. Well, that’s the way the facts played out for us. But it’s nice that we now have dedicated critics who seem to feel the need for a grudge.

It shows that, after only a year, somebody considers this newspaper important enough to be worthy of venom. After only one year, that’s as much of an achievement as a trio of blue ribbons from our peers.

***

Getting a newspaper together each week sometimes is a remarkably smooth process but usually, just when all seems well, the thing explodes on you.

I was having a very calm morning yesterday, dummying pages without problems and editing copy without too many groans, when one of our ace paginators came into the newsroom to tell me the layout for this column was not working.

At that moment, editorial assistant Dyani Brown told me WLIU was on the phone. “It’s ‘Paper Talk’ time, baby,” she laughed, knowing my world was already starting to crumble.

The more time there is to prepare for going on the radio, the bigger a hassle it is. Doing it on a Tuesday, my busiest days, leaves no time to think. As long as I have a few marbles to rely on, that isn’t a problem. I picked up the phone, talked, did not embarrass myself (nobody in the newsroom laughed at me anyway), hung up and then cranked out these words to fill my space.

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