An invitation to tell us what we need to know

Thinking Out Loud

Posted: Sunday, June 03, 2001

This just in ... we are obligated to report what happens and the way things are. Sometimes what happens is lousy and the way things are is not the way we'd like them to be. We can ratchet up the drama and make everything look like a crisis, but I think television and politicians do that well enough. We should not fall into that trap so as to appear competitive.

We should be open to the possibility that good happens and that the good news can be as interesting and important as the gloomy stuff. Good and bad, important and routine - your newspaper offers a varied menu.

Who sets the menu? We both do, "we" being Empire staff and readers.

For me, this reader-Empire exchange has been facilitated by the revival of the Citizens Editorial Advisory Board. I'm not sure why the board lapsed into inactivity. Perhaps the readers-advisers were telling the Empire what it needed to hear rather than what it wanted to hear. Or maybe the Empire staff and the board members were distracted temporarily, a meeting was postponed, then canceled, interest lagged - you know the drill. We all were going to eat right, get in shape and read great literature until a bag of pork rinds materialized near the sofa in front of the TV alongside a stack of People magazines.

The board represents several interest groups within the community, including some not reflected within the newsroom. That's important. We need to be alert to activity outside our daily routines and beyond our comfort zones. Because our small staff cannot be everywhere, we must be good listeners. We try. The paper offers reader-inspired stories daily.

It is important that you know your comments, criticisms, suggestions, story ideas and news tips are welcome. You don't have to be a member of our advisory board to let us know how you feel.

Some of you mentioned that you wanted more Neighbors news plus religion, food, travel, books and outdoors information. The Empire did not offer much about these topics, certainly nothing on a regular basis. You deserved better.

The changes did not take place overnight. They required us to adjust. Neighbors has been beefed up, color now being a regular feature. Neighbors content will improve as Neighbors Editor Fern Chandonnet works more closely with you. Fern also is making most of the religion, food, travel and books pages, with the help of Design Editor Lori Thomson and National Features Editor Mark Sabbatini. Those pages will have more local content in the future.

Outdoors/rec news represented a challenge. Its absence represented an embarrassment. If an outdoors/rec section is going to be worthwhile, it must be full of local content. Local content is harder to develop than national content. We buy information from providers such as The Associated Press. The AP, however, exists to help provide news from places where we cannot be expected to have a full-time presence. It is our job to cover our own backyard. The publisher said, "Just do it." So we did. (Thanks, boss.) Well, mostly Kristan Hutchison did. (Thanks, "Stan.")

A long-time advocate for an outdoors/rec section, Hutchison rolled up her sleeves and tracked down hikers, fishermen, birders and I don't know who all, turning them into sources, stringers and columnists. Now, Empire Outdoors is there for you every Thursday.

Our commitment to local coverage is in evidence every day. Each of our morning news meetings begins with the presentation of at least three, more often four and sometimes five local stories and one or two local photos for the front page. On a daily basis, we plan for one national or world story out front, two at most. A Seattle earthquake or an Oklahoma City bombing can alter our approach. A national or world photo moves to the front page if it is compelling and if our local shots are not. Day in and day out, staffers Brian Wallace and Michael Penn provide outstanding photos from in and around Juneau.

The front page of Friday's Empire, for example, featured five local stories with local photos, while directing readers to two national stories on page 12.

If we are to distinguish ourselves from other sources, it must be by giving you more and better local news and information plus a mix of Outside and specialized news. Please let us know what you want to read in the Empire. Don't hesitate to hold us to the highest standards.

Managing Editor Steve Reed can be reached at streed@juneauempire.com. For a complete contact list of Empire employees, visit juneauempire. com and click on email staff.



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