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The newspaper's not broken, but we aim to fix it anyway

Posted: Sunday, March 17, 2002

God willin' and Murphy's Law in abeyance, the Empire will have a new look and some different content by Labor Day.

"Uh-oh," some of you may say in reaction to the advent of an Empire makeover. "I hope they don't change ....." (fill in the blank with your favorite part of the newspaper).

Having lived in towns where a significant number of readers ignored or despised the paper, or one of the two papers, I recognize Empire readers to be loyal, fair-minded, discerning, constructively critical, engaged and opinionated.

The beauty of living in a town the size of Juneau is our mutual accessibility. We can know one another. Empire newsroom employees don't operate from the isolation of an ivory tower telling you only what we think you need to know. Readers can contact Empire reporters and editors and tell us what you like and don't like about the paper.

We may not always agree. Sometimes we may not be able to accommodate your requests. Lest I be too cryptic, let me share a recent example.

When I opened my e-mail on Friday, a reader let me know we were not doing enough in our reporting of the controversy involving a Juneau-Douglas High School student who has been suspended for hoisting a banner off campus and for carrying a leather-working tool on campus.

Soon, the phone rang and a reader told me that we should be more cautious in our reporting of that story lest we provoke a tragedy. She suggested we keep stories about the JDHS controversy off the front page and the suspended student's photo out of the paper.

Do more? Do less?

To one reader, playing this story anywhere other than the front page was sweeping it under the rug.

To another reader, playing this story on the front page may be irresponsible.

Dealing with the contrasting opinions within minutes of each other left me momentarily frustrated. The beauty of the situation is that both readers felt connected enough to their hometown paper to contact the editor.

At the risk of complicating my life, I'm asking for more feedback.

To anyone who feels the Empire ain't broke and shouldn't be fixed, thank you very much, but we know there is room for improvement. Incrementally, the paper has improved. This Week, an arts and entertainment magazine that includes TV listings, debuted in December. Empire Outdoors offers stories about recreational opportunities in our beautiful backyard. The Neighbors page has evolved from a jumble of superficial stories illustrated with black-and-white photos to a collection of community events often anchored by a staff-written feature and illustrated with color photographs.

But what now? How do you feel about:

A color weather map? The placement of obituaries? The amount of space devoted to national sports? The mix of local, national and international news? Theme pages such as Food, Books, Travel, Religion, Health, Technology and Personal Finance? The content of the stocks listings? Better display for Empire Outdoors? Op-ed columnists? Business Profiles? More national and world news briefs? The sky boxes across the top of our front page? Do you use them? Celebrity news? The bridge column?

If Ann Landers replaced Dear Abby, would you care? If the horoscope disappeared, would you howl? Do you have suggestions about improving coverage of schools, the medical community, the Coast Guard?

What are your favorite comics? Which ones should we replace (Garfield, For Better or Worse and Peanuts scored highest while Sylvia, Monty and Alley Oop rated lowest in a preliminary poll.)

We are going to perfect our polling and engage some of you in focus groups in coming months. For now, I encourage you to comment on anything I've mentioned and anything I've left out by sending an e-mail to streed@juneauempire.com. Fax me at 586-3028, or write to me in care of the Empire, 3100 Channel Drive. For now, it won't be possible for me to field the high volume of telephone calls a request such as this may generate, but I look forward to setting aside some future mornings, afternoons and evenings to accommodate call-in comments.

Steve Reed is managing editor of the Empire.



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