The Star showed no such restraint in February in covering a lawsuit filed against an Anniston City Council member, his former employer and Regional Medical Center alleging sexual harassment. The newspaper was right to cover the story even if the news had nothing to do with his official actions as a council member. An elected official is a public figure. But the story, by Patrick McCreless, hardly justified a banner headline in all caps across the top of the front page (Feb. 21, 1A).
The Star added to its prominent display with another article on the same issue. By Laura Camper, this story revisited all of the legal woes of the members of this council over the last two years as though they were related to a very different lawsuit. That information has been told several times by The Star. This story repeated many of the details cited in the lawsuit story. It also raised the question of whether state law providing for the removal of public officials might apply to this case. Only The Star raised that possibility (Feb. 21, 3A).
The next day, The Star ran yet another story on the lawsuit, and again it ran across the top of Page 1A. It repeated the details of the incidents alleged in the suit. The main focus of this story, by McCreless, was RMC’s policies against sexual harassment, a reasonable subject for a follow-up story, if not for its prominent display (Feb. 22, 1A).
Helping the community
Several readers have asked about the two pages devoted to the Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce in The Star’s Friday’s editions. Robert Jackson, The Star’s vice president for sales, said the pages are made available to the chamber without cost “to promote their organizational activities.” He said production costs are covered by revenue from ads that run on the pages. The Feb. 15 Star carried two pages made available to the Anniston Museum of Natural History and the Berman Museum on the same basis. Perhaps such “public-service space” should be more clearly labeled.
The donation of space to civic organizations may be seen as a Star contribution to the community, but it also subtracts from space available for news coverage. The Star also devotes two pages in the news section to “most wanted” photos from area police departments on Tuesdays and three pages to information from public records, marriages, divorces, bankruptcies, etc., on Tuesdays. That adds up to seven pages a week less for news, although this information clearly has some news value.
Covering the charters
The Star carried two timely and helpful stories on the possibility of charter schools in Anniston and Alabama this month, both by Tim Lockette. One considered the record of charter schools nationally (Feb. 5, 1A); the other reviewed the issue in local and state terms, including an interview with the legislator who is introducing a charter bill in the Alabama Legislature (Feb. 19, 1A).
Some dimmer Star spots
• A story on the razing of the Oxford Inn, by McCreless, was interesting, but it did not tell the complete story. It did not say when the motel was closed, who sold it to the developer for how much, or how much land is involved. It did not tell readers of other projects developed by the purchaser (Feb. 4,1B).
• Coverage of a speech by U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers to the Anniston Kiwanis Club, by Cameron Steele, described the congressman’s views on local issues but did not report any of Rogers’ many comments on national issues (Feb. 24, 1A). Star columnist Phillip Tutor did consider Rogers’ views on such issues, but he depended for information on a story in another newspaper about a similar Rogers speech in Auburn (Feb. 24, 11A).
• “High performers,” about a U.S. News and World Report “ranking” of regional hospitals, was confusing. By McCreless, the story reported that Regional Medical Center is one of 140 regional hospitals in the nation named as best. The U.S. News survey looked at the hospitals in 16 “high-stakes categories” of care, and listed all regional hospitals that performed “at the national level” in at least one category as “best.” RMC was judged high in gastroenterology, neurology and neurological surgery. What were the other 14 categories? How many of the 140 “best” hospitals “ranked” above RMC with high marks in more than two categories? (Feb. 28, 1A).
Paul Rilling is a retired former editor at The Star.