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Making a better Regional News, controversy, compliments



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January 07, 2014 | 04:19 PM
I've received several comments regarding the column I wrote last week outlining how we can be a better newspaper.

I pledged we'd make it worth the $1.50 we're now charging.

Some were complimentary; some were not. Here's a sampling:

Toby Lee Schuring of Lake Geneva said on the Regional News Facebook page: "Ha! It was already too expensive to begin with!" But then she added: "Just my opinion ... good luck to you! And I truly mean it."

Trudy Schubert of Walworth wrote in an email: "I enjoy your newspaper and look forward to reading it every week. It is worth every cent you charge!"

And someone else added on Facebook:

"I read it online for FREE."

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This Monday as we were computing the page count for the Regional News, my pledge to do better came back to me.

Historically, this is a down time for advertising, public officials and even criminals seem to be in hibernation. Several meetings we were planning to report on this week were called off because of the cold.

We briefly considered reducing the page count because we base the size of the paper, in large part, on the number of ads we run. The more money we make on ads, the bigger news hole we can provide.

But I remembered my pledge and kept the paper the size it is — 28 pages in the RN (the Resorter, included in every RN, was 16 pages). We'll be 50 percent larger than that at other times of the year. Still, those 28 pages still represent more than you'll get in any other local paper and I'm proud of that.

One final note, to the person who said he read the paper online. He didn't. At least he didn't unless he subscribes to our epaper ($19.99 a year). We only run a fraction of our news and advertising on www.lakegenevanews.net. We can't give it all away for free.

And I'd like to think that the feel of something tangible in your hand still has value, especially at $1.50 a week.

Here's a report card on the pledges I made last week:

Better photos with stories: On Monday, we sent graphic artist Sarah Schauf out in the cold to shoot a photo to illustrate the weather. It ended up as a graphic for a pro-and-con on global warming that dominates most of this page. Sometimes it just takes one extra step — or, in this case, a few very chilly steps down the block.

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Deeper stories: The 1A story on the LGBT community might have been a one source story. But in the interest of a deeper story, reporter Steve Targo contacted several other sources. The result: A sidebar nearly as interesting as the main story.

Changes in our community landscape: The story on the new diner in town came about because we're trying to keep you better informed on the seemingly small local events that are part of our day-to-day life. We hope to do more of that. Lake Geneva school coverage: We're working on a story about vocal students who are going to Carnegie Hall and I plan to attend upcoming board meetings.



Better Community & Commentary pages:
I want to incorporate issues other than those that are strictly local. That's a slippery slope and one I've resisted. We're a local paper and we can't get lazy and use other resources just to fill space. On the other hand, none of our minds are strictly local. If we keep our first mission in mind, there's no reason we can't expand on that with intriguing commentary. So every week I'll be asking myself, what are people really thinking about? This week the answer was clear: How cooooold it is. Thus, the rather lengthy story on page 1D, which gives various perspectives on the climate debate. I hope you find it interesting.

Different story forms: Most journalists were taught to write just one way. But there are many ways to tell a story. I grew up in the days of "New Journalism" where that vision expanded. One example is the first-person story. Reporter Jade Bolack took a tour of the Fontana water system. That would probably have been a deadly boring story if we just printed who-what-where and when. But by doing it first person, Jade found a way to take you on her journey. The result: a word trip you might enjoy. It's hard to get journalists out of old habits and we never want to sacrifice the pursuit of objectivity. But there are some cases, where the story goes beyond hard facts. We should embrace those as opportunities, not restrictions.

Bolack will remain on the beat

I was in an unusual situation New Year's Eve morning. I was both the reporter and a participant in a special meeting of the Walworth School Board. The board wanted to talk and take possible action regarding the Regional News. They were rightfully upset with a mistake we made a few weeks ago. Board president Kelly Freeman floated the idea that the district's attorney might write a letter to me asking for a new reporter for the beat. Since I was there, it seemed a moot point to both me and several of the board members. I told them there would be no change. Jade Bolack, who has been covering the district since she started working here, will remain on that beat. She apologized for her error in a heartfelt column. I'd told the board both Thursday and at a prior board meeting that we were wrong. That should put it behind us. Jade is one of the most fearless reporters I've seen and recently won an award from the Wisconsin Newspaper Association for her work. I told the board we expected fair and balanced coverage from our reporters and I trust Jade will provide that. At the same time, I told the board, I don't want to take away from her aggressiveness. I told them that if they had complaints they should direct them to myself or Managing Editor Rob Ireland. Prior to the most recent mistake, we hadn't been contacted and have received no negative feedback from the other boards she covers. Most of the Walworth board agreed that Jade should have another chance. One mistake should not damn anyone. I hope that ends the issue and we can all start off with a clean slate in 2014. We'll report what we see and look out for the public. That's our job and we intend to do it.

12 who matter

We want to do something special this spring — a new special section called "12 Who Matter." We want to pick a dozen people in our readership area who are contributors to the community. We'll run profiles and photos. Please send any suggestions to me at jhalverson@lakegenevanews.net.

Joy making joy at Christmas

Our ReelLifeTV.net videographer Joy Kowald, shot a great Christmas video featuring kids from Woods School. It's based on the AT&T, "It's Not Complicated" commercials. The idea actually started this summer when Philip Sassano, owner of Refined Rustic and local recanteur, interviewed kids for our "What Is Lake Geneva Missing?" series. It's all part of our ReelLifeTV project. For the Christmas video, go to Youtube and type in "Lake Geneva Regional News Woods School." To see Sassano's videos, type in "ReelLifeTV What is Lake Geneva Missing." Remember, it's ReelLifeTV with two 'L's.) I absolutely guarantee you'll laugh and be charmed.

Quinn columns all in one package

Local historian Patrick Quinn, who has written historical columns for the Regional News for several years, has compiled those columns in "Sketches of Lake Geneva: A Rich History Revisited." It's a project of the Geneva Lake Museum. There are also some bonus columns and great photos. It's a must for anyone interested in local history. Besides Patrick, others who deserve credit for this wonderful contribution to local history include Mary Janzen Quinn, Patrick's wife, who served as editor of the book, Leslie Gostomski of Emmie G. Creative Group who did the design, the Lake Geneva Lions Club, the Lake Geneva Garden Club Foundation, the Rotary Club of Lake Geneva, the Lake Geneva Historic Preservation Commission and Brian Magee whose financial contributions made it possible for the Geneva Lake Museum to publish the book. It's available for $15 at the museum, 255 Mill St, Lake Geneva.

How do we stack up?

We have a new contest at the Regional News. There's a stack of newspapers in the front window of the newspaper that represents all the papers we produced in 2013. The contest asks: "How Did We Stack Up This Year?" Guess how many pages the Regional News had during 2013 and the person who is closest will star as our new spokesperson in a video commercial for ReelLifeTV.net. Entry forms are available in the lobby of the paper. You can also submit your page count guess to Jessica Franzene at jfranzene@lakegenevanews.net or via the Regional News Facebook page. I know it's cold outside and a visit to our paper may not be on your schedule, but it would be a great contest to win for anyone who wants to start a video career, or just plain wants to see him or herself on camera. If you need another reason, ask for me and I'll buy you a cup of coffee. We're at 315 Broad St. across from Horticultural Hall.

Halverson is general manager and editor of the Regional News.

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