Paul Rilling: Putting stormy weather in The Star
May 30, 2013 | 5111 views |  0 comments | 61 61 recommendations | email to a friend | print
In May, The Star reported one dramatic breaking news story, the severe rainstorm of May 17-18, and an important continuing story, the 2013 session of the Alabama Legislature. Both stories were well covered by The Star’s news staff.

There were three stories on the storm in the next day’s edition (May 19, Pages 1A and 6A). The main story by the total news staff covered the flooding, power outages and other major damage. Another story, by Ben Cunningham, told of a youth who was swept through a drainage culvert under Quintard Avenue. A third story reported the impact of the storm in Cleburne County, by Laura Camper. There were five photos by Bill Wilson and Trent Penny.

There was some unnecessary overlap in the two front-page storm stories May 19. One story gave details about the teenager who survived his trip through the culvert. The other story had three paragraphs about the same incident, including the same statement from an Anniston Fire Department official.

The restoration of Montgomery coverage by a “Capitol and statewide reporter,” Tim Lockette, enabled The Star to provide solid coverage of statewide issues under consideration by the Alabama Legislature. Lockette’s reports also kept up with local legislation and how area lawmakers voted on key issues. The last day’s sessions were reported in two stories by Lockette, one on the Legislature’s override of the governor’s executive amendment to delay the implementation of the Alabama Accountability Act, the other on the gun law concerning where firearms can be carried. There was a photo of the Legislature in action by Courtney Davies, but the picture’s cutline did not say which chamber was shown (May 21, 1A, 7A). Although The Star reported that the final session would extend some hours past its news deadline, there were no articles about what happened in those closing hours in the next issue of The Star.

Sunday drinking

There were a number of stories over the last two months about the proposed local law to allow the Sunday sale of alcoholic beverages in Anniston and its passage by the Alabama Legislature. Front-page articles by Paige Rentz May 15 and 16 reported the Anniston City Council passing a local ordinance as permitted by the law and plans of local restaurants and a wine store for Sunday sales. There was no story in the first Star print edition after the first legally wet Sunday about what happened.

None of the stories explained the details of Anniston’s local law. Does it make any distinction between the sale of beer, wine and hard liquor? The licenses are different. Does it distinguish between on-premise and off-premise sales? The Star’s stories seem to imply that there are no distinctions between Sunday sales of alcoholic beverages and sales from Monday through Saturday except the prohibition of Sunday sales prior to 11 a.m. for restaurant service and noon for store purchases. Presumably, the state liquor stores will not choose to offer Sunday hours but private stores licensed to sell liquor will be free to open on Sundays.

At the City Council meeting where the local ordinance was approved, there apparently were no individuals or groups present to oppose the Sunday law. Given the history of conflict over the sale and consumption of alcohol beverages over the years, the silence was strange.

On camera

The best photo of the month was one of a homecoming soldier hugging his young daughter, by Stephen Gross (May 21, 1A). The worst photo of the month was with a story on the expansion of Stringfellow Memorial Hospital. The person in the picture is identified but can’t be seen; the photo was too dark to show anything (May 10, 2A).

Trophies for The Star

The Star did well in the Alabama Press Association competition covering papers published during 2012. This contest places the large metro newspapers and the small city papers in the same class. Some of the most important categories, general excellence, most improved, best public service and others, were not announced in order to build some suspense at the APA convention June 22 where winners in these categories will be recognized.

In the 21 categories announced in May, The Star won a total of 11 awards, including five first-places. Just one other newspaper, the Birmingham News, won 11 awards. The Huntsville Times and the Decatur Daily won 10 each. No other newspaper won as many as five first places; The Huntsville Times was next with four. The Star won five places in nine categories of news writing, one place in four categories of sports writing, and three in five categories of photography. In past years, the competition has tended to be dominated by the metro dailies, particularly the Birmingham News. This year, with these papers down to three issues a week, the awards were more widely shared by the eight newspapers judged in the A division (May 16, 5A).

Paul Rilling is a retired former editor at The Star.
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