Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Being an old-fashioned newspaper guy, I deplore the recent trend toward smaller newspaper companies starting niche free publications full of fluffy features signifying nothing.
Liberty Group Publishing has started a few of these to boost its revenue over the past few years. It's not that there's anything inherently wrong with fluffy magazines, but they have a tendency to divert the company away from what should be its primary goal...to find a way to serve its community with solid, hard-hitting journalism and increase its revenue flow by doing so.
That's why the announcement seven days ago in the Neosho Daily News that staff writer Michelle Pippin is moving to the magazine side of Liberty was so disheartening. Ms. Pippin has worked hard over the past few years and has served the Daily's readers well. I am sure she will thrive working for the magazines, but I personally would like to see some of that magazine-style writing included in Liberty's local newspapers...and not just the fluffy kind, but the hard-hitting investigative kind. I don't know what the Daily's plans are for replacing Ms. Pippin, but it would be nice if the Daily would spend some money and bring in someone with experience.
Sticking with the small, local newspapers, the Jan. 1 issue of The Lamar Democrat featured editor Rayma Bekebrock Davis' look at the events that took place in the year 2004. And there were definitely a number of big ticket items featured, including the decision of long-time sheriff Bill Griffitt not to run for re-election, the death of O'Sullivan Industries' founder Tom O'Sullivan, the purchase of Lamar Supermarket by Summer Fresh, and the destruction of the historic Earp Building in an Aug. 28 fire.
A number of news items concerning O'Sullivan Industries, the city's largest employer, were featured...all of them came from news releases issued by the company. Yes, those releases were important news, but this situation called for journalistic leadership and that was not in evidence in Lamar.
The following items were included in the year- end wrapup:
-MoDOT confirmed installation of rumble strips on Highway 43 to begin on July 26.
-Lamar Rotary explained its centennial project to the district governor, Gerald Harp, on Oct. 5. The project is headed by Doug Davis. (Democrat publisher)
-Allen and Edith Walters donated the Lamar Fair queen portraits to Rotary officially in September. The framing project for those portraits was spearheaded by Rayma Bekebrock Davis (Democrat editor).
-The Lamar Democrat went to full pagination.
-In November, the Lamar Fair queen framing project was complete.
The article concluded with Mrs. Bekebrock-Davis writing, "Our hope is to publish more good news than bad and to continue to be your record of life in Barton, Jasper and Dade counties."
Apparently, the "record of life in Barton County" for the year 2004 did not include the resignation of Daniel O'Sullivan, chairman of the board of O'Sullivan Industries, and the later resignation of marketing chief Michael O'Sullivan, the last of the O'Sullivans to hold leadership positions in the company brought to Lamar by Tom O'Sullivan 40 years ago.
The "record of life in Barton County" also did not include the forced departures of longtime O'Sullivan officials, some of whom had been with the company for more than three decades.
Those items were never featured in the newspaper.
Items that ran in the newspaper, but did not make the year-end wrapup story, included the appointment of million-dollar CEO Bob Parker at O'Sullivan Industries and the decision to move the company's corporate headquarters from Lamar to Atlanta.
If that is the paper of record, my guess is that Arthur Aull and Madeleine Aull VanHafften are rolling over in their graves.
Let's stick with the newspapers. The Joplin Globe had the misfortune this morning to run a number of man-on-the-street quotes about the Cable One-Nexstar battle that heavily leaned toward Nexstar. A suspicious mind might question the timing of that page-one story on the same day that the Globe's A section featured a full-page ad from a satellite dish company..and those full-page ads bring in big bucks. The man-on-the-street thing is a relic of the past and needs to be discarded. In this case, I have talked to as many people, maybe more, who agree with Cable One or who curse both of the companies. But when you tell a reporter or photographer to come back with five or six photos to use as a man-on-the-street feature, that reporter is going to come back with five or six usable photos, not 10 or 12 so you can get a better choice and who can blame him? The Globe editors' lack of imagination opened the paper to charges of bias with this story.
KOAM-TV's Lisa Olliges' hard-hitting story on a Montgomery County, Kansas, judge who appears to be running a dictatorship, is unusual in more ways than one.
First off, it is a hard-hitting investigative story that took on a solidly-entrenched public figure, something you don't see much of in television or newspapers.
Second, it is being run in January which, unless I am unaware of some big change, is not a sweeps month. In television, sweeps periods, which I believe are February, May, and November, are used to determine the rates stations can get away with charging their advertisers. The more viewers they draw, the more consumers they reach, so companies are willing to pay more to place their advertising with the top-drawing stations. Usually, big week-long investigative pieces are reserved for sweeps month. That's when you see pieces like "Sex in Joplin" "Drug Use: A Teen Epidemic?" on the local news.
Ms. Olliges' series is part of what appears to be a commitment to hard-hitting investigative reporting by the station. That was definitely reflected in the hiring of the new co-anchor for veteran Dowe Quick. Rhonda Justice has a distinguished record of investigative reporting during the past decade in northwest Arkansas.
KOAM is investing some money in improving its news product and it shows.
I can't say for sure if Nexstar is putting any money into its news product, as I currently don't receive either KSNF or KODE.
A 1 p.m. Friday, Jan. 14, hearing is scheduled in Jasper County Circuit Court for former Carthage R-9 Board of Education member Michael Lloyd Wells' incest case. The judge will decide on a motion by Wells' attorney to suppress evidence found in Wells' computer. Wells is a former Carthage Police officer.

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