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Thursday, February 09, 2006

News-Sentinel: Who Needs Context? Heck, Who Remembers?

The News-Sentinel Local Thursday section's front page was interesting - to a point. I was left wanting more.

Example 1 - The page contained "Local briefs." One item was entitled "Candidate joins county recorder race." The text said:
A man with business experience is running for the Allen County recorder. Herb Summers has announced he will seek the office. He lists among his qualifications a business degree from Ball State University and work as a productivity consultant for numerous companies in the past 25 years, including General Electric and Bank of America. His father, Walter Summers, was auditor 40 years ago. Republican Pat Crick is the current recorder.
The missing context? How about that Herb Summers filed as a Democrat? That Herb has been, up until his act of filing, a life-long Republican. That Herb had to file a required letter from Democratic County Chairman Kevin Knuth allowing him to file as a Democrat since Herb had last voted in the Republican primary and that, without the letter, Herb could not have filed. That Herb is the uncle of Stacey Lopshire, the leading Republican candidate to unseat County Assessor Pat Love.

It's all pretty interesting context. Too bad that Mike Dooley, who could have provided such context, is no longer at his desk at the News-Sentinel.

Example 2 - The major story on the page was about Advance Placement courses. There were two photographs showing Leo High School Teacher Steve Gabet, whose Advanced Placement government class was used to illustrate the story. The missing context? How about that Steve Gabet is a former member of the Indiana House of Representatives? Steve was a member of the Education Committee. That, after he voluntarily ended his service in the General Assembly so he could devote himself full-time teaching, he was called back to be the chief legislative liason for the Indiana Superintent of Schools.

Steve is a great guy who has my greatest respect. We served together in the House in the same legislative district (at the time a multi-member district). You would think Steve Gabet might be quoted by the reporter regarding the resources the state puts toward Advanced Placement.

A story by Mike Dooley might have had that in it. The story by Sheena Dooley did not.

Get used to this lack of information.
The paper has drastically cut back staff and other resources and is quickly losing it's "hometown" feel.
Newspaper staffs which routinely change, especially replacing reporters with out-of-area hires, lose their ability to add insight and historical background to its reporting.
What we are beginning to see is a much smaller version of the JG, which does nothing for us as readers.
This will serve nicely as the anecdote of art for what has been happening to publicly traded newspapers for the past 30 years. Imagine how long the editor who supervised this story would last if he or she had to answer to a real owner. Or from another angle, what real owner could show his or her face at the country club after so botching such a simple local story.
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