Peevish Pen

Ruminations on reading, writing, rural living, retirement, aging—and sometimes cats. And maybe a border collie or other critters.

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Location: Rural Virginia, United States

I'm an elderly retired teacher who writes. Among my books are Ferradiddledumday (Appalachian version of the Rumpelstiltskin story), Stuck (middle grade paranormal novel), Patches on the Same Quilt (novel set in Franklin County, VA), Them That Go (an Appalachian novel), Miracle of the Concrete Jesus & Other Stories, and several Kindle ebooks.

Monday, December 15, 2008

All the News That's Not

Remember the old riddle: What’s black and white and red (read) all over? Answer: the newspaper.

I’m old enough to remember when the Roanoke newspaper was indeed black and white. And, while I didn’t read The Roanoke World-News all over, I read most of it. Back in the day, stories were in-depth. Pictures usually didn’t take up half a page, and if they did, they were photos that helped explain the story. The stories started with a lead—the who, what, where, when, how. You knew from that first sentence what the story was about. The reporter didn’t tell how the news he was reporting made him feel. (Lest any readers think my previous sentence sexist, most reporters in the 60s were male.)

The afternoon World-News was absorbed by the morning Roanoke Times several years ago. Now the newspaper sports a coat—er, page— of many colors, and it's no longer "read all over" by me. I don’t read much of it because there’s not much to read anymore. The illustrations might take up a half page or more—and they’re often drawings, not photos. Much of the “news”—and I’m using the term loosely here—is watered down, warm-fuzzy stuff. Usually the front page and the front of the Virginia section have four or fewer stories. But they do have previews of what’s inside today (like I won’t open the section unless they tell me to?) or what will be in tomorrow’s paper.

The RT used to have a lot more items from the Associated Press. It still has some AP stuff, but it’s days old. Odds are good I’ve already read the items days earlier online.

Many of the warm-fuzzy stories are reprinted from Real Simple magazine or another newspaper, and they're geared to younger readers. However, and I’m sorry I can’t cite the source, I’ve read a survey that most newspaper readers were in their 50s or older. More than half of today’s Extra section—a story about cozying up your guest room—was reprinted from the Washington Post.

The RT used to have some excellent columnists, too. I miss local columnists Monty Leitch and Joe Kennedy. And I really miss Dave Barry’s humor and James J. Kilpatrick’s attention to language, but I guess syndicated columnists are a luxury the RT is unwilling to pay for. I miss local writer Beth Macy’s well-written in-depth reporting, but at least she still writes an occasional story.

Thank goodness the paper still has well-written columns by Liza Field (“Field Notes”) and commentaries by Ray Stubblefield. And well-written news stories by reporter Mike Allen.

The RT has increasingly numerous errors that grate upon my English teacher nerves—pronoun case errors, misplaced modifiers, lack of agreement between pronoun and antecedent, rambling unfocused sentences, passive verbs when an active one would work better (and with fewer words). Doesn’t anybody edit anymore?

This photo, on the front page of today’s RT, is captioned, “Patrick Henry High School students make their way to their cars in the parking lot Thursday afternoon.”

Photo taken from the Roanoke Times website, probably in violation of copyright. However, I'm using the photo for sort of an educational purpose and I lifted less than 10% of the page content and I'm citing the source, so I might be OK under educational use. If they object, I'll remove the picture.

Uh no, they’re making their way onto a main street in the area, The black PT Cruiser is actually exiting the parking lot, which would be to the right—out of the picture.

The front page used to be reserved for national news, or at least important news. Since the above picture and story uses over a third of the front page, are we to assume that it is the most important story in the entire paper? More important than the ice storm in the Northeast, more important than the economy or Obama’s plans?

The Virginia section used to be for stories of state and local importance. The cover story (over half the page) in today's Virginia section is about a guy proposing to his girlfriend at a ballet performance.

When I noticed the fire on Smith Mountain a couple of Saturdays ago, I thought the next day’s RT would have a story about it. Nope. Not a mention. Here's a picture I took of it (I can see it from my house!):

The recent fires that have killed people in Roanoke, Vinton, etc., have at least gotten a bit of press.

Sunday’s RT issued a call for volunteers to contribute to an up-coming “editorial page readers panel” on the opinion page. Essentially they’ll use unpaid volunteers to write opinion-content.

I recently received my invoice for my RT subscription. I’m trying to decide if it’s worth subscribing again. I’m paying more and getting less than I used to. What I’m getting isn’t much. Plus I don't even read all of it. For instance, here are two photos of the parts of the Sunday paper that I don’t read. The first was taken two weeks ago and the other last week.

I don’t read the classifieds (I’m not looking for a house or job). I read grocery ads and one or two other ads, but I don’t read most ads (I’m not looking to buy stuff). I don't read the sports sections because I’m not interested in reading about sports that I never played.

I’m not reading more than I am reading. Here are the parts of the Sunday RT that I did read two weeks ago:

Usually I subscribe for a year—or at least six months—in advance. Not this time. I’ll go with the three-month minimum and hope the RT doesn’t fold before my subscription is up.

Or maybe I should just write my own news.



Blogger Roanoke RnR said...

I feel the same way. Whatever happened to investigative journalism??? I can't stand the feel-good stories. My husband says the sports section is a joke. Thank God for the internet so I can get real news.

Their call for "volunteers" really irked me because all they want is people to write for them for free. It's not like they even pay freelancers a decent wage anyway. And why do they do that? Because they get away with it. Editing? Don't even get me started on that.

I really am tempted not to renew either but I'm such a creature of habit that I need to read a newspaper with my morning cup of coffee, and like it or not it's the only daily paper in town. Yesterday I actually went to Barnes & Noble and bought the NY Post for $1.25!

3:41 PM  
Blogger Amy Tate said...

Great post. My layout and typography professor at L.U. used to use the RT as an example of what not to do...and that was back in the days where there was a lead. It needs a major makeover, perhaps you could write up a suggested list of New Year's Resolutions for them?

3:48 PM  
Blogger Becky Mushko said...

I'm a coffee-swilling, paper-reading creature of habit, too. So, I'll subscribe for at least three months longer.

The other two papers I get come out weekly and three times a week. They come through the mail, so they're not in the paper tube before dawn like the RT is. But they actually have news.

4:35 PM  
Blogger Becky Mushko said...

My horoscope today was kind of interesting (and possibly applicable):

Daily Virgo horoscope: December 15, 2008
Don't criticize the situation until you have come up with a better solution, dear Virgo. Be creative in your approach. Realize that much can be accomplished if you approach the situation with confidence. Being pessimistic about all the problems will not help with finding the solution. Let your mind relax. Your intuition will guide you. Feel free to speak out with confidence and strength. Perhaps the most fanciful-sounding answers will prove to be the most ingenious solutions.

OK—gotta go look for those fanciful-sounding solutions.

6:41 PM  
Blogger Debi Kelly Van Cleave said...

And I can hardly read the light type even with my glasses on!

I like the feel-good stories but not in the front section and certainly not on the front page! I didn't even read that story about the kids driving. Who cares? Where is the national and global news? I want to know what's going on outside Roanoke. And the college football. Oh man, don't get me started on that. Like many guys, my hubby likes sports but he says if he reads another story about college football he is going to jump off a bridge.

As far as editing, the worst section is The Laker. It is a mess. I feel bad that they are struggling like most businesses but is it good business to print anything just to get something in there? On the other hand, the paper is thin enough.

The other section that is terrible is the letters-to-the-editor. I have never read such boring letters-to-the-editor in my life. I am a prolific letter-to-the-editor writer. I was in the Frequent Contributor Club at the Asbury Park Press in New Jersey and got to meet Steve Breen, Pulitizer Prize winner, plus many well-respected and famous writers. I was also given gifts and joined them for a special breakfast. That was my reward because they appreciated my letters. I tell you this to lead up to this--in all the years I've been writing letters-to-the-editor to many newspapers, I've never had one rejected--until The Ronaoke Times. In fact, now that I am thinking about it, I've had my second letter-to-the-editor rejected and that was by the Eagle, also struggling to stay in business. Not to toot my own horn, but it was not because mine were BORING like most of them I read in those newspapers. I suspect that someone didn't like what I had to say and felt it was more important to play it safe.

It doesn't surprise me that they are losing their advertising revenue. Their prices are sky high. My husband's company attempted to do some advertising with them (both newspapers actually) when we first moved here but it was just too expensive. Their prices were higher than in New Jersey where folks' incomes are, in general, much higher. We said to ourselves, "How do these people afford to put ads in the paper down here?" We couldn't.

On a good note, I like the commentaries and I think Dan Radmacher writes intelligent editorials. Some of the syndicated columns like the one by Starshine Roschell (sp?) are also great.

7:56 AM  
Blogger Becky Mushko said...

Oh, yeah. The light gray print. Actually, that's gotten better lately. But there's still the occasional crease through a page.

Debi, maybe you should do the reader panel!

8:55 AM  
Blogger CountryDew said...

Great post. It has been perplexing to watch what is happening with The Times. They seem to be a day late and a dollar short with their news - when they have news. They seem to miss a lot. Even a police blotter of some kind would be an improvement.

4:36 PM  
Blogger Debi Kelly Van Cleave said...

I was thinking about it until you called the Reader Panel "unpaid volunteers." That goes against my grain. Like I always say, if writers would stop giving their work away for free, then maybe we'd be valued a little more and we'd all get paid and not be expected to be satisfied with seeing our name in print.

However, I am also thinking that it's not very different than a letter-to-the-editor. So, I don't know. Maybe.

Of course they'll probably reject me.

10:27 PM  
Blogger Becky Mushko said...

I think you'd be perfect for the reader panel, Debi! Since they will limit responses to 300 words, it is essentially a letter to the editor.

10:52 AM  
Blogger Debi Kelly Van Cleave said...

Well thanks Becky. You're always very encouraging and I appreciate that.

8:31 PM  

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