By JASON THOMAS
One of my first stories as a newspaperman likened the carnage happening on a high school football field to a Civil War battlefield. The victim of the onslaught was an outgunned local team with a long history of losing.
The narrative included descriptions of bloody bandages mixing with the wet turf to create patches of fuchsia-colored grass. Hyperbole oozed from my keyboard. Where “fuchsia” came from is anyone’s guess.
Reader reaction was swift — and justified. Two days later, I penned a column — my first as sports editor — under the headline ‘Boy is My Face Fuchsia.’ In an effort to impress in my first newspaper job, I committed a Cardinal sin in journalism: distorting the facts for a preferred outcome. Reader shame and an apologetic column were my penance.
The lesson would serve as a moral barometer throughout my journalism career, including nearly 10 years at The Indianapolis Star. No matter the size of the paper, accuracy is paramount.
Something else stuck with me: The community reads its newspaper religiously, allowing it a certain kind of ownership. Readers might not always agree with the words on the paper’s pages, but there in black and white is a daily account of what’s happening in their cities and towns and schools. It’s their paper.
In Southern Indiana, the News and Tribune is your paper. In my new role as assistant editor, in less than two months I’ve already seen firsthand our readers’ passion on any number of issues. That jazzes us as journalists. As a native of Floyds Knobs and a graduate of Floyd Central High School, I consider the News and Tribune my paper, too.
So I’d like to use this space to say hello and ask a favor: May I pick your brain? What would you like to see covered in the pages of the News and Tribune? What do we do well? What needs work? Also of interest is how you read the paper. Are your fingers smudged with ink or are your thumbs sore from accessing our content via the web or your smartphone?
These questions are important because they go to the core of the paper’s existence. The News and Tribune’s mission is to seek the truth. Its duty is to shed light on wrongdoing, lend a voice to the oppressed and provide vital, and oftentimes entertaining, information to the public. That might sound a bit like hyperbole — fuchsia grass, anyone? — but those are the values that lured me back to newspapers after two years away.
Just as important as the paper’s content is the vehicle used to deliver the information. Beginning with the dawn of the Internet a few decades ago to the immediacy of the social media revolution today, papers like the News and Tribune must always think ahead. Our recent partnership with WAVE 3 News is an example of that. The video posted on our website Tuesday on the breaking news about the bridges tolls is another example of new media.
But the partnership with WAVE is just the beginning, as the news cycle is constantly evolving. Information — for better or worse — is now disseminated in real-time in 140-character tweets. There will be more changes. That’s exciting, scary and necessary.
There is a silver lining with all the change. Community newspapers like the News and Tribune have a distinct advantage because we do local well, giving us a bit of built-in immunity. But we must be vigilant in continuously monitoring the pulse or our readers.
Which is why I’d love to hear from you. Drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me directly at 812-206-2127. Let me know what you’d like us to cover, what we’re doing well, what you think needs improvement. Don’t worry about hurting my feelings.
After all, my face has been fuchsia before.
— Jason Thomas is an assistant editor at the News and Tribune. Contact him at email@example.com