Paul Rilling: On Star’s front page
Nov 29, 2012 | 3160 views |  0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
You may have had some difficulty with the page numbering in Thursday’s edition of The Anniston Star.

In the A section, the advertisement that covered the left half of the traditional front page was technically Pages 1 and 2. The familiar front page was Page 3. The A section was a six-page section with news on Pages 3, 4 and 5. The special SEC championship section had a similar ad across half of the section front. The traditional section front is numbered Page 3. The need for advertising revenue can lead to innovative changes.

Coverage needed totals

The Star’s Nov. 7 election issue was an attractive package. There were stories on all statewide and Calhoun County races, and on turnout locally. It included a national election map showing results of the presidential election by states as of midnight election day. The big picture was there, but the details could have been better reported.

The summary of results on Page 1 could have included party affiliations of candidates. It could have noted that the state Supreme Court contest was for chief justice, not “justice.” It might have said that the circuit judge position covered both Calhoun and Cleburne counties, not “Calhoun County circuit judge.” And there is the strange reluctance of The Star to report vote totals, often using percentages only. Percentages are interesting, but elections are decided by votes.

“Back on the bench,” covering the circuit court judge race, reported that Bud Turner carried Calhoun County by “nearly a two-to-one margin” and Cleburne County “by a large margin according to numbers provided by Turner’s family.” Since when did The Star rely on candidates’ families for election returns? No vote totals were provided, by Laura Camper (10A).

Trivializing FactCheck

I have several problems with The Star’s “Fact-checking claims on Alabama’s Constitution.” It was played as the lead story on a Sunday. It might have been an interesting short feature, but it was hardly the most important news of the day.

The story, by Tim Lockette, treated the “longest in the world” claim about the Alabama Constitution seriously, as an important claim. We knew that our state Constitution is long, the longest in the United States. Statements that it might be the longest in the world are usually made with words like “may be,” “possibly” and “as far as we know.” The claim is hyperbole, exaggeration to make the point that we have a really long Constitution.

The BamaFactCheck label was misused in this case. BamaFactCheck stories research serious claims that can be proved or disproved. “The longest” boast is neither. It is not an issue that really matters. A definitive answer would have no effect on the question of whether or how to change Alabama’s Constitution. And how did the story arrive at a score of four out of five as the “truth rating” of the longest claim? Does that mean there is an 80 percent chance that the claim is accurate? The story trivializes the BamaFactCheck label (Nov. 18, 1A).

Big news to some readers

“Jacksonville leans toward event food trucks” was a good story about the Jacksonville City Council’s consideration of whether and how to permit mobile food trucks in the city. The story, by Paige Rentz, included information on some other college towns and Alabama cities. At 37 inches, however, the story may have been too long for Star readers in other parts of the region.

The news editors of Star-owned weekly newspapers in Jacksonville, Piedmont and Oxford also serve as Star news writers. The arrangement has led to more complete coverage of those communities in The Star. It also means that the same stories can appear in The Star and the weekly newspapers. Sometimes, a story that is major news in one city may be less important news to readers in other communities served by The Star. A story like this one might be edited to a smaller length for The Star (Nov. 20, 1A).

Volleyball’s stars

High school volleyball may be a minor sport compared to football and basketball, but it is at least the No. 2 girls’ sport and is played widely and avidly in area high schools. The Star gave the sport its due with an attractive special section on the 2012 volleyball season. The section included large and small schools’ all-star teams and stories profiling the outstanding player and coach in the two divisions. Bran Strickland wrote the stories; Stephen Gross provided sharp action photos (Nov. 16, Section B).

Paul Rilling is a retired former editor at The Star.
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