Paul Rilling: Reporting on ‘Morals’
Jul 07, 2013 | 4256 views |  0 comments | 56 56 recommendations | email to a friend | print
On June 14, Star Commentary Editor Phillip Tutor’s column was a strong report on the “Moral Mondays” at the state Capitol in Raleigh, N.C. People of all races and faiths have gathered each Monday to protest legislative policies harmful to poor families and the general welfare. Tutor noted that the June 10 rally was the largest yet, more than 1,000 protesters. Eighty-four were arrested for failing to disperse. They were handcuffed and marched off to jail.

It was not mentioned in the column, but one of the first persons arrested was Tim Funk, a former Montgomery reporter for The Anniston Star. Funk was covering the rally for the Charlotte Observer. He was wearing prominent press identification. Photos of his arrest have been circulating on YouTube. He will face misdemeanor charges at a court hearing. It will be interesting to see what a judge does with charges against a reporter who was arrested while doing his job.

A bad place

You would think The Star would handle with care the editor/associate publisher’s prize-winning columns. On June 2, Bob Davis’ column had a glaring error in the headline, “Off the record, and in a bad palce.” On June 9, the final paragraph of his column read: “…the movement to try Rumsfeld for war crimes doesn’t seem to seem to be going anywhere...”

Story overplayed

“The tax that wasn’t” was a good Star analysis of a little-known system by which Alabama nursing homes and hospitals pay substantial taxes to the state to provide funds the state uses to draw down federal matching money that goes to pay Medicaid bills to nursing homes and hospitals. This is the kind of story that reveals the strange ways government sometimes works, by Tim Lockette (June 30, 1A).

It was an excellent story, but overplayed. It was the only story on the front page of a Sunday paper, with a huge, all-caps banner headline, of the print size usually reserved for presidential elections or national disasters.

Local angle needed

The news peg for a story about the grocery business, “Shelf starter,” was the announcement that a new grocery will be built at the corner of Hamrick Drive and Alabama 21 in Oxford, close to Walmart and Publix. The story, by Lockette, took 45 inches of space quoting experts about the grocery business nationally and speculating on whether the new store will be a discount store or a high-end market. The story noted that there was no information available about the store.

The story was weak on local analysis. Walmart and Publix spokesmen were quoted, but there was nothing from discount stores. Winn-Dixie, a “big-box” store and the largest grocery chain in Calhoun County, was not even mentioned. How have Walmart and Publix affected Winn-Dixie stores, particularly the large one in nearby Golden Springs? (June 16, 1A).

More June Starbrites:

• Two incisive articles about the impact on Alabama of the U.S. Supreme Court decision on the Voting Rights Act, by Lockette (June 9, 1A; June 26, 1A).

• “Welcoming worship,” an effective story and graphic package about the attitude of area churches to gay worshipers, story and photos by Sara Milledge (June 15, 1B).

• Good coverage of the murder trial of Nicholas Smith, July 25 through July 2, by Rachael Brown.

• “Working to spread hope,” a story by Milledge, about the operation of the Center of Hope thrift stores, with five good photos by Stephen Gross (June 29, 1B).

And some blips:

• “Getting their feet wet,” a topical story about avoiding the heat, but it was confusing. The caption of one photo said, “Up to 300 people typically visit Crystal Springs during the summer months.” Clearly, 300 daily was intended, but not said. The story also said, “…a typical weekend in the summer months can see up to 300 people take refuge from the heat…” Again, presumably daily, by Brian Anderson (June 16, 1B).

• The “Artists in Action” column told of a historical document written by Mr. and Mrs. Charles Milton Noble in the 1920s. The story about the Nobles was interesting, but it referred to the couple several times as “the Miltons” rather than the Nobles, by Hervey Folsom (June 9, 4E).

• The “Diamond dazzlers” were fine photos of the top 11 high school baseball and 11 softball players in the area, by Courtney Davies and Gross. Their impact was lessened by the too-brief paragraphs on the sports fronts identifying them (June 29 and 30). The “dazzlers” deserved more information about them and how these stars differed from the all-star team selections announced earlier.

Paul Rilling is a retired former editor at The Star
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