Tuesday, February 26, 2013

20 items means 20 items

Don’t you just hate it when you’re standing in the grocery checkout line holding three or for items and the jerk in front of you clearly has more than he’s supposed to? 
I’m sad to say a couple of days ago, I was that jerk.
It started innocently enough.
It was Sunday afternoon; the store was crowded.
As I went to check out, I scouted each lane. They all had at least two or three shoppers with overflowing carts waiting to unload, except the express lines.I hadn’t counted the items in my cart, but I knew it was close. Is a bag of four apples one item or four? 
When I’m waiting in the express line, I often count the items in the cart in front of me. But I didn’t want to count mine. There were now two people behind me, I figured the die was cast.  I decided to offload a couple of items to an unrelated display near the checkout aisle to reduce my total.
I never did count my items. When I stepped into the line, I figured I had about 22, but as I unloaded, it  clearly closer to 30. To his credit, the guy behind me was a nice guy; we even shared some chit-chat about carbs.
I checked out and paid as quickly as I could, feeling pretty guilty.
But here’s the worst part; just as I was approaching the exit, clear on the other side of the store, the checkout clerk came running up to me;  it seems I’d forgotten one of my bags.
So first I went through the express line with too many items, then I took the clerk away, so the next person had to wait even longer.
I don’t even know why I’m admitting this;  I should put it behind me and just not do it again. But it’s worth remembering it only takes one wrong move to turn a gentleman into a cad.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Facebook headline contest was my bad idea

I went too far on Facebook.
In an effort to be more engaging, I invited Facebook readers to write a headline for a story about a man who, the county sheriff says, was caught smuggling pills into the county jail in a balloon stuffed into his rectum.
I said there were no promises the headline would appear in the much more staid print edition.
Facebook is has a different audience, a different tone than print. The rules are new, different and evolving.
It's apparent I broke those rules and offended a segment of the community.
That was not the goal.
Here was my thinking, which I now know to be flawed:
One of the most popular features in the Oneida Daily Dispatch and many other papers is the "Odd and Ends," short humorous stories, usually about somebody doing something stupid:
- The burglar getting stuck trying to climb in through the chimney.
- The Man getting arrested for DWI on a lawnmower.
- The woman selling chunks of crumbled sheetrock as crack to naive drug users.
- The political candidate getting arrested for DWI twice on the same night.
Each of these stories was funny and made its way around the globe because of that. I feel no guilt in running them even though, if you scratched below the surface, you'd likely find someone's disease-grade problem with drugs of alcohol, which clearly isn't funny.
But running the contest, even on Facebook, was wrong. While the goal was to be an engaging journalist, the reality was that I stepped over the line from journalist to not-so-funny comedian (even though I was soliciting the jokes from others).
For the record, I understand alcohol and drug dependence is a disease; my dad was an abusive alcoholic. But my opinion is that adults must accept responsibility for their actions.
These aren't the kinds of diseases one catches by touching a wrong doorknob or breathing the wrong air. You catch these diseases by sustained, repeated actions that everyone knows are bad choices.
And family members have often been dismayed by what they read about their loved ones, but we can't stop publishing facts.
But we can stop publishing ridicule.
The news business is changing; there are no models of how local news should be as we learn to use these new media.
We'll continue to experiment, especially with our online efforts to find the right balance;  I do believe our Facebook presence should be lighter and more informal than the print newspaper has traditionally been.
I'm labeling this experiment a failure; too many were offended to say it was anything else.
I'll fulfill my promise. Mike Hennagir wrote the most clever headline; it's not the one we used on today's story. But he'll receive his gift certificate.
But please note, that unlike the moderated comment feature on our website, we have no control over Facebook comments.
While this contest was my mistake, I'm sure people will continue to post observations that are stupid, clever, hurtful, supportive, liberal, conservative and everything in-between; that's How Facebook rolls.

Here what some people said:

Courtney Bennett -- What's the difference between actual print and Facebook? Offensive is still offensive regardless of the medium in which it was published. Just because this is not a "real tragedy" to you, it is for him and his family. Making light of someone with a disease (i.e. addiction) is never OK. Whoever hit the "submit button" on the initial post is a true disgrace to this community.

Angel Morales -- I'm sorry but addiction is not a disease. How can it be a disease when you have to first make a choice to do the drugs? Why should we have pity on someone who endangers their life, their family or any other human who chooses to do the right thing? You say pity them I say pity us as we are the ones who are paying for people to be in jail where they are kept warm and fed and relatively take it easy all while people can't afford to heat their homes, buy food or put gas in their cars. If they take a humorous approach and were to put it in the paper then kudos to them because the ones reading it spent their money buying the paper instead of buying drugs.

Kalenna Maire -- Well if he was not stupid enough to get caught maybe people would not overreact. It's so sad and funny at the same time. Don't feel sorry for him at all… Only people I feel sorry for are the decent people in his family that have to say they are related.

Robin Collins -- Yeah, I have to agree, this was a bad idea! Poor judgement on someone's part.  It's a drug problem; it's not funny.

If you visit our Facebook page, you'll see the opinion is pretty split. I'll assume that the many who offered headlines were not offended, and the poll has gone both ways, but remained close.
But what matters most to me, is how this sits on my conscience, and it's not well. We often publish news items that are distressing; that's our job and I can live with that.
I took people's reactions to heart. I wasn't wrong to publish the story, and even give it prominence.
I was wrong to encourage ridicule and apologize to those who were offended.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Reactions to the new Oneida Daily Dispatch

We produced our first Sunday paper on Saturday. 
It wasn't perfect, but we did get it completed on time. I expect each edition will be better than the last.
A group of people came into the office on Sunday and shared their opinion about the three-day printing schedule, the bold new design, some errors we overlooked and at least one awful mistake that hits you in the face.
Yes, I'm talking about the unreadable first page of out new Sunday comics section.
The only thing to do about that is to re-run it. You'll find it on page B5 of today's edition.
Sorry. The people who handle that page have figured out what went so horribly wrong and are changing their procedures to ensure it never happens again.
From talking with readers on the phone and those who came out to Sunday's Community Media Lab event, many readers have some similar objections:
• They want the paper to continue being printed and delivered six days a week. In earlier columns and blog entries, I explained why this decision was made and how 6-day delivery would be unaffordable for us and for our subscribers . I know many people, especially older people,  like newspapers printed on paper. I'm one of them. I liked newspapers so much, I chose producing them for my career. But it's clear that younger people prefer their news on their computers, tablets and smartphones. If we are going to survive another 163 years, we must provide what these readers want, too.
• The story type is too small; the photos and headlines are too big. I agree. While there are many aspects of the bold, modern redesign I love, ultimately it's about the reader. Since many newspaper readers tend to be older, the type should be larger and easier to read. This is a corporate-wide look the Journal Register newspapers are adopting, and we're one of the first. I'll emphatically pass on the feedback, I'm sure they will listen. I wish I could just wave my hand and fix it, but it will take time.
I've been talking to a lot of readers, and I don't want make it sound like all I'm hearing are gripes.
People are noticing that there's more local news.
Some people love the new design (these people have good eyes).
Since we're pledging to provide more content, we've received some excellent suggestions we're already working on.
Some people said the new design looks too much like a big-city paper; we've lost our small-town neighborly feel. I smiled at this one; it's the same thing people were saying almost 12 years ago, the last time this newspaper installed a new computer system and took on a new look. 
Over the coming weeks, we'll get better at using this new equipment and format; I know readers will get used to finding the new spots for their favorite features.
The news staff will work hard to gather more local news and I'll do my best to lobby for some tweaks in the new design.
Meanwhile, look for more frequent updates to our website, Facebook page and even this blog as we begin to master these powerful tools.
It's your newspaper; we only work here.

Read my earlier blog about the 3-day decision: http://www.blogger.com/blogger.g?blogID=7776139599083959135#editor/target=post;postID=3274458841749805219