Tags: Staff Editorial
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March 26, 2013 | 03:14 PMThe first thing I do when I come to work Wednesday morning is grab a fresh copy of the Regional News.
I've been in the business 40 years and it's still a rush to see the paper when it's hot off the press. But it's also a moment mixed with a wee bit of trepidation.
The mistakes that we made Tuesday night when we put the paper to bed are usually obvious in the light of day.
The second thing I do is check email and phone messages to see if one of our eagle-eyed readers had noticed anything when the stories came up on our web page that morning.
Then at 10 a.m. we convene our Wednesday morning editorial meetings.
My first question at every meeting is "did anyone catch anything?"
Then we go through the paper page-by-page. We compliment and criticise and resolve to do better.
There's no formal agenda. We don't need one. There's always something to talk about.
This week, for instance, we argued whether a front page headline was fair. It read "Veteran faces 12th drunk driving arrest." We had a reader question why we used the word "veteran." I questioned it, too.
"If it was a plumber, would we have said 'Plumber faces 12th drunk driving arrest'?"
Most of the staff thought we made the right call the night before. Managing Editor Rob Ireland said the man's attorney used the driver's veteran status in arguing to have his bond reduced. It also highlights problems veterans are having, which is an issue that is concerning to those working in Veterans Affairs, he said. A veteran's court has even been established because of the issues they face.
"If a veteran did something good, we'd probably do the same thing," said reporter Jade Bolack, who is a member of the Army Reserve.
"OK," I said. "I concede."
Next we discussed our pre-election coverage.
We'd sent out questionnaires to candidates a few weeks before, but some hadn't returned their answers by our deadline. Did they not get the questionnaire? Did their answers get lost in cyberspace? Or did they just decided they didn't want to take part? We didn't know, and it was too late to resolve the issue for last week's edition.
We could hold the Q&As for a week. That would still be time to get them in before the election. But last year we'd made a decision to end our pre-election coverage two weeks prior to the voting day so we'd have a week to make any corrections that might affect the election.
Since the elections this year weren't especially controversial, we opted to wait, contact the tardy candidates and give them another chance. We also resolved to send out questionnaires even earlier for the next election.
We went on to debate how many words we should allow on subsequent questionnaires. This year two candidates went over the limit by 100 words. Luckily, they were in the same race and they went over on the same question — so we allowed them the extra words.
We all agreed to be more firm about word count in the future and explain to candidates that we'd reserve the right to edit their letters if they go over.
Then there was the question of how many words to allow in the future.
This time the limit for Lake Geneva races was 150 words per question. I argued for 250.
"Some of these are complicated issues that are hard to condense into 150 words," I said.
Rob and city hall reporter Chris Schultz felt 150 words was enough.
I suggested a compromise of 200 words — but we'll discuss it some more before we make a decision.
Finally, we discussed how to better handle corrections.
Rob noted New York Times has all their corrections in one spot, on page 2 of each edition and suggested we do the same. That way readers would know where to look, instead of having them stuffed them in some random corner where they might not be noticed. We don't want to hide from our mistakes.
"The Times goes really far in their corrections," Rob said. "I read that they made a correction on a 50-year-old story."
"I think that's great," said reporter Steve Targo, feeling it showed how important it is to the Times that they get things right.
I agree. But some errors are more important than others, so how do you decide to handle them?
If we made a major mistake on 1A for instance, we'd probably print a correction on 1A. But if it were a minor error we'd probably put it with any other corrections. Of course, our hope is never to make a mistake but they happen.
We also discussed noting our personal connection to any stories we might write, the stories we had planned for next week and who'd take the weekend photo shift.
Forty-five minutes had passed since I asked: "did anyone catch anything?"
Speaking for myself, I enjoy these Wednesday meetings — the debates, the analysis, the camaraderie.
We're chugging ahead, trying to make a better newspaper.
Halverson is editor and general manager of the Regional News.