On Dec. 17, the U.S. House passed the compromise bill to extend the Bush-era tax cuts and to provide several economic stimulus measures. At the top of the front page the next morning was a story noting U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers’ vote against the measure. The story, by Patrick McCreless, cited Rogers’ reasons for opposing the bill and quoted several Alabama economists who favored it.
The Star did not cover the votes by Alabama senators on this bill, or on other major bills. “Alabama Tally,” the chart showing how Alabama members of Congress voted, which often runs in the Sunday Star, did not run in the last three Sunday papers.
On Dec. 12, Page 1A, The Star reported on the local legislators’ views of the ethics bills before the special session in a story by Laura Camper. With the story was a chart showing the actual votes by area state senators and representatives on several of the bills. The Star did not carry the votes of local legislators during the rest of the session.
In a series of stories by Tim Lockette, The Star did track and analyze the bill to end payroll deductions to any organization engaging in political activity. Approved by the Legislature, the new law will affect the Alabama Education Association and perhaps other groups.
The articles, Dec. 11, 17 and 21, did a good job of considering the arguments for and against the bill and the impact of the measure. The articles did not explain how much is at stake for the AEA. The Dec. 11 story said that 100,000 AEA members use the payroll deduction to pay their dues. How much does each member pay per year? How much money do they provide to the AEA? How much did the organization spend during the 2010 elections? The articles didn’t say.
Absent from the stories was any comment from AEA Executive Secretary Paul Hubbert or any other state officer of the AEA. It was a major omission. The Dec. 21 article said, “The Star called officials at AEA and the Alabama State Employees Asssociation … for comment and got no response.” This was an important, timely story, but it could have been held a day or two while The Star continued to try to reach a state AEA official. One story did include comments from the Calhoun County field director of the AEA.
The religion beat
The Star’s managing editor, Anthony Cook, struck a nerve with his column about prominent ministers who have been touched by scandal (Dec. 11, 1B). Cook wrote, “But for every male minister who lands himself on the front page under claims of less-than-godly behavior, there are hundreds, even thousands of God-fearing men who quietly go about the business of preparing Christ-centered sermons, faithfully caring for their flocks and leading by example.”
The column named nine local ministers “as examples” and invited readers to name others. In his next column (Dec. 18, 1B), Cook included comments he received praising 18 other clergymen who readers named as “godly pastors;” pictures were included. The reader-parishioner responses say much about the good leadership of many of our churches.
There are probably several daily newspapers that carry religious columns by staff members. I doubt there is another by a managing editor who is also a minister, or a minister whose day job is to run a newsroom.
Working on cold cases
The three-part series by John Fleming, “The short life of Rogers Hamilton,” shone a spotlight on another unsolved racial crime, this one from Lowndes County in 1957. Hamilton, a young black man, was taken from his home late at night and shot. His killers have never been identified. The crime is on an FBI list of cold cases that are being reopened (Dec. 12, 13,14).
The articles were moving and shocking. Fleming’s research is part of the Civil Rights Cold Case Project, which brings together investigative reporters and documentary filmmakers to uncover the stories behind unsolved civil rights murders. Fleming is a founding member of the group. His work is a credit to him, and to The Star.
Good Insight package
The Insight front, “Headlines to watch for in 2011,” was an innovative way to reflect on our problems and hopes. One headline of the future read, “Rep. Rogers casts ‘no’ vote against puppies.” The headlines were both funny, serious and thought-provoking (Dec. 26, 1E).
Paul Rilling is a retired former editor at The Star.