Paul Rilling: The Star’s expanding coverage of Montgomery
Jan 03, 2013 | 2666 views |  0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The Star’s state reporter position in Montgomery, which restores the paper’s window on the capital, continues to give Star readers thoughtful, interpretive reporting on current issues facing Alabama. In December, Tim Lockette’s articles looked at possible legislative term limits, the budget problems of the state Medicaid program and the question of home rule for Alabama counties, among other topics.

Two of the articles concerned possible changes in the state Constitution through the Constitutional Revision Commission. There was no discussion of that commission — how many members, how they were appointed, etc. The stories on home rule and term limits did not include the views of most area legislators (Dec. 9, Page 1A). The color graphic with “Doing Time,” the term limit article, was an attractive layout, but it was confusing. It gave information on every 10 years, although legislative elections are every four years and rarely fall on the first years of decades.

Another of Lockette’s articles showed the strength and weakness of the question-and-answer format. “Lack of understanding” was a question-and-answer interview with Alabama Secretary of Agriculture John McMillan. The strength of this kind of interview is that it gives the subject’s views in his own words. The weakness is that the subject may talk around questions without answering them. The reporter is obligated to report his answers, whether or not they are meaningful.

In this article, McMillan dodged several questions, including one about whether farm workers in the field can make a living wage. The reporter pressed, repeating the question, but he never got an answer. The article could have given more background information. How large is the state Department of Agriculture? How many employees? What size budget? (Dec. 16, 1D).

Confusing look

The story “Deep space,” by Daniel Gaddy, was somewhat confusing in its focus. It was primarily about an over-supply of Anniston downtown office space, but the story’s subhead referred to a “surplus of available property.” Office space and property are different things. The article noted that both of Anniston’s high–rise office buildings have entire floors vacant, seven of 11 stories in the Watermark Tower and eight levels at the Commerce Tower. How many offices are there in each level? The story didn’t say.

A complete estimate of vacant office space would include other downtown office buildings. Attorney Arthur Fite talked to The Star about property designed for retail stores, but the article doesn’t get into the issue of outdated store property. That would be another story. Fite suggested that part of the office surplus problem may be the lack of “class A” office space, but at least the Watermark Tower has been fairly recently refurbished. The Star did not view the offices on the vacant floors (Dec. 4, 1A).

Covering football

In December, there was one football game of note, the Southeastern Conference championship game between Alabama and Georgia in Atlanta. The Star covered it thoroughly with two photographers and five stories (Dec. 2). There was lots of sports news the rest of the month, but most of it was national news. Of course, there were articles about the upcoming championship game in Miami. With the football season largely over, The Star covered just 13 local sports events, 16 if we include two Alabama basketball games reported by Mark Edwards of The Decatur Daily and a prep basketball game covered by the Talladega Daily Home. The Star’s prep reporter, Brandon Miller, covered 10 high school basketball games and one wrestling tourney. The results of other high school games and another wrestling event were reported by “staff reports,” by telephone. Sports writer Al Muskewitz covered two Jacksonville State home basketball games. There was no systematic coverage of Alabama and Auburn basketball, although some were reported by the Associated Press.

The Star’s sports staff is smaller than it has been. It was able to continue coverage of Alabama and Auburn football games this year through a cooperative arrangement with other newspapers. Star columnist Joe Medley was involved in the reporting along with Edwards and writers from other papers. This arrangement does not appear to be operating in other sports, although The Star did use two basketball stories by Edwards as noted.

News writers for the weekly newspapers owned by The Star’s parent company have been merged into The Star’s newsroom. The reporter who is news editor of The Jacksonville News also covers Jacksonville for The Star. Sports coverage by the weekly papers is completely separate. Weekly papers cover some games that are not covered by The Star. Sometimes, separate stories on the same games appear in The Star and the weekly papers. Closer cooperation between The Star, the Talladega Daily Home and the weekly papers might improve The Star’s area sports coverage beyond football.

Paul Rilling is a retired former editor at The Star.
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