Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Sulzberger Salutes Anniston area letter writers

ANNISTON-- In a tradition on the eve of the Harry M. and Edel Ayers Lecture, the publisher of The New York Times spoke of the importance of letter writers to the life of a newspaper even as he hinted at some of the challenges his publication has faced recently and previewed what’s to come in his address here tomorrow.

Arthur Sulzberger,Jr., great-grandson of Adolph Ochs, who founded the New York Times in the late 19th century addressed a crowd of about 100 at the Anniston Natural Museum this evening at a banquet honoring those who have written letters to the editor of The Anniston Star.

For two decades, the Star has held this event each year to spotlight members of the public who engage via their comments in the paper.

Star Editor Bob Davis and Commentary Editor Phillip Tutor took turns reading letters that have been published over the last year. Many of those writers in attendance were recognized by Sulzberger who saluted the writers for their act he says is “critical to democracy.”

“Our country needs more people like you,” Sulzberger said.

The dinner is held the night before the Annual Harry M. Edel Ayers Lecture takes place at Jacksonville State University.

While the Star’s Publisher, H. Brandt Ayers described the dinner as “an informal evening with an informal guy,” Sulzberger appeared to stick mostly to prepared remarks that made brief mentions of his paper’s highly controversial article on Republican presidential candidate John McCain and editorial endorsement of Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton.

In the age of the World Wide Web, where Sulzberger’s paper reportedly broke a story linking New York Governor Eliot Spitzer to a prostitution operation, while circulation of the printed product is dropping, Sulzberger described the role of the newspaper in 2008 as an “authoritative convener of communities.”

He cited four reasons for why he thinks the public is more re-energized: 1) the tumultuous times facing the nation; 2) the search for answers and a desire to move forward; 3) digital tools that allow the public to be more empowered; and 4) recent move toward more inclusiveness.

According a front-page article in today’s Anniston Star, Sulzberger Is expected to address the evolving business realities brought by digital journalism.

We’ll see in a few hours.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Defining "community" in the wake of tragedy on campus

This week we saw images of emotion, outpouring, sadness and determination on the pages of newspapers in North Carolina, Georgia and here in Alabama after two college students were murdered.

The Associated Press photo shown here is just one of the many images that were carried in photo galleries like the one on the Citizen-Times' Web site in Asheville, NC.

Here in Alabama at Auburn University, Lauren Burk was murdered while up at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, SGA President Eve Carson was shot to death.

While not the same degree of loss as the incidents at Northern Illinois University last month or Virginia Tech last year, these latest acts of violent crime remind us of how we may broadly define "community" in our news coverage.

Football rivalries are put aside when something like this happens. Even the geographic boundaries that might divide us are gone. Like no other medium, the local newspaper is poised to reflect this community in its coverage. It has an opportunity to gather the angles that the national media miss.

As much as it's normally considered a metropolitan newspaper, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution gets the award for drawing together the communities touched by the tragedy. Both Carson and Burk were from Georgia. So, linking the murders geographically for readers was a no-brainer.

Less obvious to the general public are the emotions, feelings and reactions of those who sit in similar places as these victims of crime-- other college campuses.

As journalists, we have to reflect community as we tell the stories of citizens uniting with those closest to the scenes of these crimes.

It's not enough to run the Aassociated Press wire or the played-out "local reax" piece. It's about capturing and reflecting the community in the way we report the news of tragedy.