Saturday, November 20, 2004

One of the things that has always irritated me most about small-town newspapers and television stations is their awkward attempts to turn national news stories into local ones. Obviously, there are times when it is absolutely critical for this to be done.
For instance, it would make no sense to cover the war in Iraq on just a national/international basis without reporting the local story: soldiers who have been shipped to Iraq, the families they have left behind, people's feelings about the board.
It would also make no sense to cover a national presidential election without telling what the vote was in this area. The coverage of the flu vaccine story also fits into this category.
But so many times, it has been such illuminating stories as "How will the drop in the prime interest rate affect you," or "how easy is it to get Viagra in this area."
That is why it was so surprising this week when The Joplin Globe and other area media outlets dropped the ball on the Sears/K-Mart merger. The Globe ran its story on an inside business page with just a smattering of localized material dropped into the wire story. The reporters covered their bases diligently, attempting to talk to representatives from Northpark Mall in Joplin and Meadowbrook Mall in Pittsburg about the merger. No one said much.
It is quite possible that these stores will remain unaffected by the merger, though I doubt it.
The Globe article made no mention of widely circulated reports that indicate Sears will begin divesting itself of most of its mall locations in favor of stand-alone stores, many of them currently occupied by K-Mart.
Of course, K-Mart no longer has a presence in the Joplin area, which surprisingly was not even mentioned in the report. This was one time readers needed to see a localized story, probably on page one. Will this have an affect on the area. What has been the history of both companies in the Joplin area. What have the trends been in shopping in this area during recent years. Let's get the representatives of the area business groups on the record. How about a talk with local financial experts. What will this mean for the Sears store on the mall? What will this mean for Sears and K-Mart stock? Could a standalone Sears store eventually be another option for the former K-Mart property at 17th and Range Line? How about a look back at what happened to Northpark Mall following the departure of previous anchor stores at the mall, including Montgomery Ward? This was a big story for national and for area business.
And none of those questions even touched on the effect that Wal-Mart has had on this area. The Globe provides itself on having a Wal-Mart watch column in its regularly published business supplement. This may have been the time for a special edition of that supplement, drawing on local and national sources to put this development into context. That is the big advantage newspapers have. They have the space to give their readers a thorough understanding of what is happening in their community and in the world. Hopefully, in the near future they will do more to explain how this merger will affect the Joplin area.
***
At least one prominent expert, Howard Davidowitz, chairman of Davidowitz and Associates, a national retail consulting and investment banking firm sees the Sears/K-Mart merger as the death knell for the Sears stores in Joplin and Pittsburg, Kan., as well as Sears mall outlets across the nation.
Davidowitz said he expects the newly-formed company to sell all of its mall-based stores within six years.
Other published accounts also indicate that a major reason for the merger was to enable Sears to move into standalone stores, not only to compete with retail colossus Wal-Mart, but also with Home Depot and Lowe's, which have thrived with standalone stores. An article earlier this week in USA Today indicated that these stores are doing well because many people do not want to go through the hassle of shopping for electronic and hardware items at neighborhood malls.
Even if the mall outlet closes, which doesn't appear to be an option in the immediate future, it appears likely that a standalone Sears store, featuring many K-Mart brand items, will be built somewhere in the area and probably more jobs will be added.
That would leave the remaining local story the fate of the empty areas in the Northpark and Meadowbrook malls. Some national news stories are reporting that in many suburban malls where big department stores have departed, they are being replaced by Bass Pro type outfits and small niche type shops.
The next few months should be interesting.
***
One of the most embarrassing things for me when I was at The Carthage Press was to have to use a wire story on a local news event. You never want to admit that you missed a big story, but even worse, the source of any wire stories from the Carthage area was most likely The Joplin Globe, so you were using your main competitor's story.
I don't recall that ever happening when I was editor at The Press, though did it happen a few times during the three-and-a-half years I spent as a reporter before my promotion to the editor position.
I am not saying we were never beat by The Globe. Of course, we were. Especially when events took place at night. We were an afternoon newspaper, while The Globe published in the morning, so naturally they were going to have the story first. But rather than take a story off the wire, I would make sure that either I or one of my reporters would be on the phones nailing down our own, hopefully improved with much more information, story about whatever it was that had happened. Most of the time we were able to either update the story or come up with an angle that was all our own.
That didn't happen for The Neosho Daily News Friday when it ran the AP account of Thursday night's Seneca R-7 Board of Education meeting. The story revolved around the use of after-school detention as punishment for a kindergarten student. It would have taken only a few seconds for the Daily editor to assign a reporter to track down the story, get a comment from a school official or a board member or from the mother who was upset about the use of the detention as a punishment for one so young.
A follow-up story could be run, checking with officials from the other area school districts on whether such punishment is used or would ever be considered at their schools. You might even check with a few child psychologists and education experts to see how they felt about the issue. Again, newspapers have the ability to thoroughly explain issues and bring them into context. That's hard to do when they abdicate their coverage of local events to The Joplin Globe and The Associated Press.
***
Planning for the future of the Diamond R-4 School District is going to take place during a special meeting of the Board of Education 7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 22. No indication of what is going to be discussed is listed on the preliminary agenda which is featured on the district's "official" website, www.diamondwildcats.org but what is listed is somewhat disturbing.
The session will not be held on school property but at the private home of board member Trish Greenwood at 3702 Highway E. Granby, MO 64844, according to the agenda. Or at least I gather that that is her home since all it says on the agenda is "Greenwood Home."
This is exactly what the agenda says is going to happen:
Call to Order
Planning Session
A. Goals
Adjournment

It is an open session, according to the agenda. It would have to be since it would be illegal to have a planning session, especially one at which goals for the school district (if that is the goals that are being talked about) are going to be discussed, in closed session.
The idea of having a public meeting at a private home is not a good one. The Missouri Open Meetings Law says, "Each meeting shall be held at a place reasonably accessible to the public and of sufficient size to accommodate the anticipated attendance by members of the public and at a time reasonably convenient to the public, unless for a good cause such a place or time is impossible or impractical. Every reasonable effort shall be made to grant special access to the meeting to handicapped or disabled individuals."
Apparently, the board is not anticipating that the public will attend this meeting since it has been set at a private residence. The only place the meeting has been mentioned has been in this posted agenda and any that may be posted at the school. I don't believe there have been any e-mail newsletters sent out by Superintendent Mark Mayo advertising the meeting. It would surprise me if there were posters of flyers circulating around Diamond letting people know that "goals" are going to be discussed at a public board meeting at a private residence.
Of course, it is always possible that this is just a social occasion and board members and Mayo want to adhere to the Open Meetings Law just in case they want to talk about something. You could tie almost anything to the word "Goals."
Time for a deep sigh. You would think these people would have been learned by now.
***
This morning's Globe featured a disturbing article about the Tax Increment Financing (TIF) Commission's approval of a plan to declare the site of the former K-Mart store as a "blighted area" which would offer tax advantages to a company that is wanting to develop the area and put retail stores and restaurants between 15th and 20th streets.
The biggest affect of this would be to take away money from the Joplin R-8 School District since the land would not be taxed for a number of years and that money would not go to the school district.
It is hard to believe that any reasonable person, let alone eight, would consider valuable property on Range Line to be blighted. The decision was only opposed by three people, Joplin R-8 Superintendent Jim Simpson, Jasper County Presiding Commissioner Chuck Surface, and Paul Barr of the R-8 School District.
The proposal also calls for the addition of a stoplight at 17th and Range Line. Now that's all we need.
This property is going to be developed, with or without tax increment financing. Why not let it be done in such a way that R-8 students will not be adversely affected.
***
This week's edition of "The Chart," Missouri Southern State University's award-winning bi-weekly newspaper, features an article about freshman Rachel Oglesby from Lamar. The story was written by an excellent young reporter, Nate Billings of Diamond, the Chart's executive editor. I'm reprinting it below, because it's a neat story about a hard working young woman, it was written by Nate, and it features one of my favorite people from the Golden City/Lamar area, teacher Barbara Nichols.

Student wins youth awardBy Nate Billings



Student Wins Youth Award
By Nate Billings
When the need for action was seen, one Missouri Southern student decided to make her mark in her hometown community.
Rachel Oglesby, freshman speech communication and art major, worked on two community projects during her senior year in Lamar High School.
"She was a very diligent girl," said Barbara Nichols, fifth grade teacher at Lamar. Nichols worked with Oglesby to bring slippers to senior citizens during the winter season. Nichols was Oglesby's fourth grade teacher and both felt like they could work with each other.The plan was to work with the students in Nichols' class to find donations and wrap the slippers.
"I managed to get over $1,500 in donations," Oglesby said.
Nichols said due to absences and snow days, the classroom had trouble helping Oglesby. "She pretty much did it all by herself," Nichols said. When the snow days occurred, Oglesby and her family went door-to-door around the town square gathering donations. The fifth-grade students then wrapped the slippers which Oglesby gathered through the donations or bought with donated money.
"It was very interesting watching fifth graders try to wrap slippers," Oglesby said. Nichols said the students enjoyed the work."It was wonderful," she said. The other community project which Oglesby set up was a fingerprint drive.
The fingerprint drive allowed community members to have their children come in and get fingerprinted in case a kidnapping should ever happen. Oglesby said she saw a need to raise awareness in the community after she heard about a kidnapping in Florida. The events took two to three weeks to prepare and develop respectively. Nichols said the Lamar school will try to continue the work Oglesby started.
The community service did not go unnoticed. Oglesby was nominated by the Lamar community to be their state candidate for the Missouri Community Betterment 2004 youth leadership award. The Lamar Community Betterment organization contacted Oglesby during the summer to notify her that she should come to their meeting."I knew when it was, but I didn't know if I had won or not," she said.
In October, the Missouri Community Betterment program made their selections for the 2004 winners. Oglesby was among the winners.
"I was surprised," she said. "When I started the project, that wasn't my goal."The grand prize winner was from Houston, Mo., but Oglesby still appreciates the award."I was honored," she said. "I got to shake hands with the Governor. Coming from Lamar, that's not something you do everyday."

Check out more of Nate's work at www.chartonline.com and his website, "The Great Nerd" at http://thegreatnerd0.tripod.com/

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