Thursday, January 31, 2008

Business, not personal

A recent editorial prompted the usual round of critical letters to the editor from outraged writers complaining about alleged unfair personal attacks.

As I've mentioned in the past, if not in this venue, certainly elsewhere, rare is the newspaper editorial for which an opposing view can't be generated. That's OK and it's welcome. It's all part of the exchange of ideas on opinion pages that newspapers like the one I publish encourage.

What's troubling is when the critics seek to deflect attention from the issues.

In this most recent case, in addressing the systemic problem with campaign contributions and access to power, our editorial board pointed to a meeting between the local congressman, a developer (who happens to be a campaign contributor) and the mayor. The editorial didn't claim illegalities on anyone's part. Read it again and you'll see. But it did speak about contributions and access.

When a John McCain takes on a Mitt Romney , and visa versa (pick your own example, if you don't this one; there are plenty), pundits will say "it's getting personal." I say they're debating the issues.

Calling it "personal" makes for a lively argument, but it's usually way off the point.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Primary endorsements

Best I can recall, the Freeman has never ventured into making editorial endorsements in advance of party primaries. This year we will.

With Super Tuesday coming up, our editorial board has determined which candidates it will recommend as best-suited to emerge as standardbearers for their parties in the race for the White House.

The endorsement editorial will appear in the Sunday Freeman.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Doug Sheppard

Coach Doug Sheppard has died.

Younger readers won't remember the name. But for those of a certain age, you'll recall Sheppard as a fixture in the Ulster County sports scene, primarily as a coach at SUNY New Paltz (or New Paltz State, as it was commonly known in the '60s and '70s).

Coach Sheppard was one of the first people I met as a freshman at New Paltz in 1966. I spent a lot of time at Elting Gym back then.I was a young kid and wannabe sports writer who wrote for the school paper and hung out with a friendly and dynamic group of coaches like Sheppard, Joe Owens, Bob Durkin, Art Stockin and Arnie Lent.

Coach Sheppard coached golf, which wasn't my sport back then. (The way I play today, it's still not my sport, if you get my drift.) It was as men's basketball coach that I really got to know him, particularly when I tagged along on road trips, watching him work close up and interacting with him and his players on a personal level.

Coach Sheppard's teams weren't particularly talented. But he knew the game and his athletes respected him and played hard for him.

I saw him from time to time over the many years since I graduated and he retired, mostly at the Herdegen golf tournament. He always seemed to light up when he recognized me. (I got older, he didn't, so sometimes it took him a second.) It's not that it was me. I just think he got a kick out of reconnecting with former students and he enjoyed watching them grow up.

I never called him Doug. To me, he was always Coach Sheppard. He was a good guy.

Friday, January 18, 2008

FAQ, Part 6 (Press releases)

Sixth in a series of frequently asked questions about the Freeman:

How do I get my press release in print?

Not unlike the prior question about photographers, the short answer to this one is, give us plenty of notice, and please understand that we don't have room and resources for everything.

Do your homework and send your press release to the appropriate editor. Call ahead if you're not sure who that is. Someone is more likely to look at something if his/her name is attached to it. And please, don't send the same release to several people here.

Don't send us a press release today about something happening tomorrow. Your odds for publication are slim. The earlier it's received, the better.

Make sure there's contact information on the press release -- name, phone number and e-mail address.

Do expect that your press release will be edited for style and space.

If you don't spot your press release in the paper as a "story," check to see if the event you're promoting has been added to the calendar listings?

The shorter the press release the better. We get dozens a week by snail mail and e-mail.

Still haven't seen the press release in print? Nothing wrong with calling and e-mailing the appropriate editor to determine its whereabouts. But, again, be understanding. Your press release is most important to you. To our editors, it's one of many, from which they have to make judgments about importance and reader interest.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

FAQ, Part 5 (Getting a photographer for an event)

Fifth in a series of frequently asked questions about the Freeman:

How do I go about having a Freeman photographer assigned to my event?

Your best chance is to contact us well in advance.

We currently have two full-time photographers on staff. Generally, both work five days a week, seven-and-a-half-hours a day. That means there are days when only one of them is working, since the other has the day off.

Staff photographers are assigned to breaking news, sports events and feature stories. Unfortunately, that doesn't leave much time for a host of worthwhile community events for which our editors get requests for photo coverage. The "appointment book" fills up rather quickly.

So call way ahead of time -- at least two weeks, and that may not be enough. Call the right person. For news assignments, it's Tony Adamis, our assistant managing editor. (If he's not around, try Managing Editor Sam Daleo or City Editor Jeremy Schiffres.) For sports, ring Ron Rosner, sports editor, or his assistant Dave Hines. For features, go to Life Editor Ivan Lajara. Dwayne Kroohs handles the People section.

They'll do their best. But please understand, if an assignment can't be made, it's more likely because of a lack of resources, not a lack of interest.

And, yes, we do accept unsolicited photos e-mailed to one of the above. If the pictures are of good quality, and they're accompanied by accurate, detailed information, including full names, there's a chance they'll be used, if space permits. And if I were you, I'd call ahead to give the editors a heads up.

Friday, January 11, 2008

FAQ, Part 4 (Headlines)

Fourth in a series of frequently asked questions about the Freeman:

Who writes the headlines?

I'll back into the answer: Not the reporters.

All of us who started in this business as reporters have experienced angry phone calls or letters to the editor complaining about a sensational and/or inaccurate headline atop our stories. "Your story is OK," we'll hear, "but you screwed up the headline," they'll declare.

But reporters don't write headlines, copy editors do. And fortunately, those "screwed up" headlines are few and far in between.

Depending on the size of a newspaper, a story might be edited by several people before it's ready for print. Others then might team up to determine the "head," especially if it's the top story on the front page.

At smaller newspapers like ours, it's typical for the editor who copyreads a story to also write the headline and place it on the page. But depending on the importance and/or sensitivity of a story -- again, especially if it "leads" the paper -- more than one editor could have a hand in it.

Headlines obviously are important. They're what draws readers into a story. The headline on the top of Page 1 could make someone decide to buy the paper.

The goal of the headline writer is to be accurate, interesting and brief. It's not always easy, particularly when you have to write one on deadline. If there are errors, that's when they're more likely to occur.

Want to see how it works at a big city tabloid? Catch the movie "The Paper" with Michael Keaton and Glenn Close. The characters and publication are fictional, but the procedure rings true as editors gather around a computer screen to write "the wood," as top headline of the day is called in the business.

So if you see a bad headline in a newspaper, save the reporter some grief and complain to the editors.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

FAQ, Part 3 (The front page)

Third in a series of frequently asked questions about the Freeman:

Who decides what goes on the front page?

Most days, it's the managing editor.

The newsroom's day begins early, with the assistant managing editor in by 7, reviewing that day's paper and beginning to build a list of local stories for the next day. He's talking to reporters, editors and correspondents throughout the morning, making story and photo assignments, and taking calls from readers.

By noon the next day's preliminary story "budget" has been compiled. It's the roadmap for the managing editor and city editor, who meet in early afternoon to review the list and discuss what goes where. Ultimately, the managing editor decides which stories he'll use on Page 1 and hands the rest back to the city editor, who assigns the others to inside pages, and also determines how many and which pages will contain wire stories. (Pages for Life, Sports and Opinion already have been split off for other editors to prepare.)

Once the managing editor has departed at early evening, the ball is in the city editor's court. If a late breaking story emerges, or in an anticipated story doesn't pan out, he'll either make a change to Page 1 on his own, or phone the managing editor at home to consider the alteration. Right up to presstime for the first edition at midnight, a switch can occur.

The managing editor isn't normally in the office on the weekends, so the city editor (on Saturday) and the assistant city editor (on Sunday) make the decisions. But the managing editor is only a phone call away.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

FAQ, Part 2 (Letters)

Second in a series of frequently asked questions about the Freeman:

How come you didn't use my letter to the editor?

Older readers will remember the tune with the lyrics: "Letters, we get letters, we get lots and lots of letters ..." That we do. Dozens of letters a week, in fact, often more. And alhthough we clear as much space as possible for them, there's never enough to print them all.

So which ones are chosen? The ones that are generally well written and relatively short. (Most readers don't have the patience to read long letters, although a couple of days a week the best of the lengthier submissions are selected if the topics are compelling.) Priority is given to writers from whom we hear infrequently.

If we receive many letters on the same subject, we won't publish them all. But we will select a representative handful in proportion to public opinion. That is to say, if 10 letters come in, eight in favor of something, two opposed, we're likely to print four and one.

All letters are edited for style, space, grammar, and libel. We never edit in such a way as to alter someone's opinion. For those who believe their letters shouldn't be cut, understand this: If we get your point in five paragraphs, the other five paragraphs are unnecessary. (Welcome to the life of a newspaper reporter, who faces the same kind of editing every story.)

We've basically departed from the business of printing campaign letters that say little more than, "Vote for him, he's a good guy." If there's meat in campaign letters, their chances of publication increase.

If your letter is printed and others reply to it, you don't get to answer. When would it stop? We call it the ping-pong scenario. Back and forth could go on forever. So one shot for you, one shot for each respondent.

And to those who think we don't print criticism of the Freeman, or letters with which we disagree, you haven't been reading closely. I like to tell people that if we ditched those letters, we'd have far fewer in the paper.

Oh, and one more thing: If your letter is selected, it typically takes up to 14 days from receipt to be published given the backlog of mail.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

FAQ, Part 1 (Editorials)

Here's the first entry in what will be a series of posts on the most frequently asked questions about the Freeman.

Who writes the editorials?

The quick answer is, it doesn't matter. Here's why.

A newspaper's editorial policies typically are generated by an editorial board. Larger papers have many members on the board, and they meet frequently to discuss issues and take positions. Smaller papers may have no board; instead, the editor pretty much does it all. The Freeman lands in between in terms of the formality of the process.

There are four of us on our editorial board: Managing Editor Sam Daleo, Assistant Managing Editor Tony Adamis, Political Editor Hugh Reynolds and me. Once an editorial position is established, one of us will do the writing. To attach a name to the editorial, however, would suggest to readers that it is solely the opinion of that writer. That's not the case.

To take it a step beyond, within the newspaper business, the editorial page is sometimes called "the publisher's page," because that's supposed to be the only place in the paper where an institutional opinion is expressed. But the publisher -- here and at most places -- only rarely writes an editorial, although he/she obviously can overrule the editorial board, if he/she chooses.

For the record, I almost always agree with our editorials, some more enthusiastically than others. On those with which I am less excited, I OK publication because others on our board who are better informed on a particular subject have convinced me of their point of view.