The Crime Bulletin was the most unusual. Produced by The Star's Marketing Department, the four-sheet section of mug shots and information about "most wanted" first appeared on Monday, June 29, as an insert for home-delivered papers and as a front-page "wrap-around" for those sold through Star vending machines or in stores. It was moved inside the paper for following editions on Mondays before shifting to Tuesdays the last two weeks of the month.
On July 6, the daily blog of the Columbia Journalism Review, "The Kicker," called the June 29 front-page wrap "cheesy (at best), misleading (at worst)…" It called it "conduct unbecoming (or, at least, unexpected) of a paper with a reputation as a beacon among small newspapers…" In a comment posted on the blog July 7, Calhoun County Sheriff Larry Amerson supported The Crime Bulletin as helpful to law enforcement.
Robert Jackson, The Star's vice president for sales, launched The Crime Bulletin in an effort to increase single-copy sales. He told me that sales did increase by 28 percent the first week it ran and 33 percent the second week, as compared with Monday sales before the new section.
Any resemblance between The Bulletin and the showy, tabloid mug-shot publication BAMABUSTED sold in area stores and gas stations for 99 cents is no coincidence. Jackson told Columbia Journalism Review that he "watched it selling like hotcakes" and decided to offer a "mug shot-driven product" for The Star.
The Crime Bulletin publishes information provided by law enforcement agencies. It may help police catch some fugitives. Newspapers have to try new ways of selling papers in this economy, but it is highly unusual at any newspaper for a news-content section to be produced by the Marketing Department rather than the news staff.
From the perspective of this retired journalist, with little exposure to the business side of the field, the sensational style of The Crime Bulletin is inappropriate in a community newspaper. Different publications have different roles. A family newspaper should not try to double as a flashy checkout-counter tabloid.
Some changes worked
Having given up on jumpStart, The Star is trying a different kind of Monday tabloid section, The Monday Record. It looks like a winner. It includes information formerly provided elsewhere in the paper — the calendar, the blotter and new information obtained from public records: marriages, divorces, deaths, arrests, property transfers, etc.
Is any of the information too intrusive? Does it serve a public interest to carry individual bankruptcies? They are public records, but they may be embarrassing to people in economic trouble, all too common these days. Publication of felony arrests is part of a newspaper's responsibility to cover the criminal justice system, but if arrests are reported without follow-up information, persons found not guilty are publicly accused but not publicly exonerated.
The new Friday Escapes, another tabloid-sized section, is a repackaging of recreation and entertainment news. Edited by Deirdre Long, the first Escapes section was well laid out and attractive. There was an index and an interesting cover story, "All that jazz," by Ben Flanagan. It was 24 pages, including 10 pages of the TVStar. Following the index was difficult because of the invisible page numbers. I finally found them hidden in the small black stars at the top of the pages (July 24).
Folding the TVStar into Escapes came at a cost to reader services. Using their daily newspaper to follow TV programs is a habit for many readers. Those programs are no longer there, except for in Friday's paper. Also removed are the guide to movies of the week and the network locator, which told readers where stations can be found on their cable systems. The Star does still publish TV highlights in each day's news section.
Elsewhere in The Star:
• The series on local runners who will participate in the Woodstock 5K race on Saturday was a fine sports series. The four stories, by Joe Medley, were well written and illustrated. The stories were clearly identified as a series on each part (1B, July 6, 14, 20, 27).
• A story about the retirement of Joe Serviss from Jacksonville State University was an interesting feature, but it left some intriguing gaps. The story, by Michael A. Bell, said Serviss had an ice cream machine named after him. That cries out for how and why, but it is never mentioned again. The story said Serviss graduated from JSU in 1969 and went to work there in 1989, which leaves an unexplained gap of 20 years. The biography box noted he retired as an Army officer. Presumably he spent those 20 years in service, but stationed where, doing what? Readers aren't told (July 27, 1A).
Paul Rilling is a retired former editor at The Star.