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Thu February 12, 2004
Hold the press! Paul on print...
By Paul Wilkes
Wilmington NC – [Click the LISTEN button to hear Paul's commentary.]
Whenever you hear the term, the media - you know, that worldwide, unified conspiracy to contort the news to some certainly evil end - well, let your mind soar instead over to a conference room just off the intersection of 17th and Dawson Streets in Wilmington.
There, each weekday afternoon at 3:30, the editors of the Wilmington Star News look at what has happened in the past twenty-four hours, see what local stories are ready, and try to figure what to put in the next day's paper. They try to sort out both what we need to know and, if the truth be told, what we want to know. That sells papers and believe me, they want to sell papers.
In the first category -what we need to know - might be the presidential race, Iraq, the economy, tax rates, tuition increases. In the second, the ephemera, Janet Jackson and company and, on this particular day - well, this pack of dogs.
If you stop by at the Star-News one afternoon --which by the way you are invited to do -- you'll find a group of sub-editors, 30-somethings on average, and editor Allen Parsons, he with a decade or two more experience than that, trying to discern what should go where, with how big a play, with what kind of picture or graphic.
It is a remarkably disparate and human group, with their likes and dislikes, biases and blind spots, with finely tuned senses of humor and sense of the absurd, with little of the cynicism some might expect.
Yes they might have been on their best behavior when I brought my senior seminar writing class over from UNCW, but their rather open puzzling leads me to believe it was a fairly representative - and painfully lean - news day. How to play that story about the Wilmington man attacked by dogs in New Mexico without being sensationalistic balancing a front-running John Kerry with a sitting president and really, what about the dropping of the tariffs on macadamia nuts. Does anyone care; how will that impact the average Wilmingtonian?
At a 3:30 meeting, you come away with a feeling of the sheer fun of being in the news business and the awesome responsibility. And how important it is to keep the firewall between this small group and the chief editorial writer Chuck Riesz, safely ensconced in his office and the publisher, Ken Svanum, in his. Riesz's editorials are opinions, not news. And the twain cannot meet. And, for certain, how well the paper is fairing financially - publisher Svanum's job -- will certainly determine how many reporters are hired and when the computers get replaced. But the bottom line can't dictate what appears on the news pages.
And you realize there is no big brother dictating what we will read. Just a group of fallible newshounds who try as best they can - sometimes failing, but, as best I could tell, for most part succeeding - in putting aside their own biases and preferences. To daily and Sunday provide for us on the higher plain, what we need to know. And, hey, let's lighten up a bit and have a chuckle, also what we, equally fallible readers want to read.
Paul Wilkes teaches in the English Department at UNCW.