Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Our holiday operation

This is the time of the year "enjoyed" by our staff as the Operation Holidays.
For those of you who are not aware, The Mercury each year runs a fund-raising campaign for needy families with children of the greater Pottstown area. For the months of November and December, we become something of a social-service agency -- fielding calls from people who want to "get on the list," opening stacks of mail, answering questions about who is getting how much from whom, tabulating contributions, and writing stories for the paper about the plights of families in need.
In a few weeks, we will be addressing and distributing thousands of dollars worth of gift cards so that parents can buy gifts ($75 per child) for their children in time for Christmas. One of The Mercury's advertising managers will order nearly $8,000 in food; the facilities manager will procure some 300 boxes to be assembled; the distributions manager will round up drivers to volunteer their time for delivery; the assistant to the publisher will call schools and solicit student volunteers for packing; and here in the newsroom, Sue Klaus and I (I like to refer to her as Mrs. Claus) will finalize the lists of names and numbers of children referred to us by agencies.
We get the names from Headstart classrooms, local hospitals, a community college program that helps young parents trying to get an education, school districts, food pantries and the Cluster of Churches outreach program. We serve people in public housing developments, clients of the Women's Center who are victims of domestic abuse, mental health patients, and a list from the local Department of Public Welfare office of those who are rejected for public assistance because they earn too much for aid but too little to make ends meet.
We have been doing this for 16 years, and we have fine-tuned the procedures to the point that the program runs pretty easily these days. But, it is still a lot of work at a time of year when holidays, vacations and the inevitable illnesses already leave us short of time.
We grumble about it.
I tell new reporters here not to be discouraged if they call someone who is less than appreciative of the help we are offering. I tell them not to become jaded by the ones who are trying to work the system. We know there are those who will take advantage of the generosity of this program.
I tell them it only takes one truly deserving family to remind us that Operation Holiday is a good thing, a positive force of giving in a season of much wanting.
I tell them that I mean this.
The poverty and the need in our region is so much greater than we realize until we go looking. Operation Holiday forces us to look.
It lets us become part of the solution for just two months instead of just the messengers.
It gives us the chance to let our readers be generous.
I think sometimes that the greater joy of Operation Holiday is felt by those who send in a collection of change or who write out a check for $100, anonymously, because they can.
Because being reminded that we have the compassion within us to give is a good thing.
Operation Holiday reminds us in this often dire news business that people are still good and kind and generous.
I hope to never become so jaded that I forget.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

This new world

Okay, I'm a bad blogger.
The business of getting a daily newspaper on the street every day is still the top priority to me as the editor of The Mercury.
Posting comments to this blog on how that minor miracle occurs is still an afterthought for me. But, I vow to get better.
The thing about a daily newspaper is that it starts from scratch each day -- each and every day. And on Fridays, planning the papers for Saturday, Sunday and Monday all starts from scratch as well. We are fond of reminding newcomers to this business that this is a daily production with the deadlines and energy level inherent in that concept always top of mind.
Add to the business of daily newspaper production the new medium of a Web site, and you can see why some minor details -- like posting to this new blog -- get overlooked.
I'm not even sure if anybody is reading this, but for what it's worth, I'll be writing more often.
Starting tomorrow.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

You have the floor

One look at SoundOff will tell you people in this area have a lot to say about a lot of things. Here's your chance to spout off online. In this new (for me) world of blogging, I am going to open up a forum for discussion of topics of community interest.
That's why I call this The Daily Overload. There's more to say and more to hear every day than there is time or space to get it in the paper.
Let's start with the Ricketts Community Center.
If you have something to say, or want to see what others are saying, post your comments here.
The comments will not be edited, but if they are racist or offensive, I will remove them.
Question of the day is this:
What should be done with the Ricketts center?
Not what went wrong, not who is to blame, but what can be done?
Let's see what you think.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Straightening a twisted tribute

The motorcycle crash death of Josh Morris two weeks ago is a story of many layers. According to police, Morris, who was 22, died after his motorcycle crashed into another motorcyle in a "twisted tribute" outside the funeral of a friend who had died days earlier, also in a cycle crash.
Morris' family requested publicly in his printed obituary that no motorcycles or motorcycle attire be displayed at his funeral. But on the day of the viewing, another motorcyclist was injured after crashing en route to the funeral home.
The chain of events sparked debate and controversy about what or who, if anyone, inspired the actions that resulted in the loss of life or in injury and property damage.
What is often forgotten in this reporting -- where we focus on what, when, how and the controversies surrounding events -- are the people whose lives must go on after tragic loss.
Two of those people, the sisters of Josh Morris, shared their reflections with a reporter last week for a story in The Sunday Mercury. That story told of Josh's life, not merely his death. It told of a loving family of adopted children -- their jokes, their travels, their goals -- and of the funny, ever-smiling side of Josh Morris that police or emergency medical workers never had the privilege to encounter.
When we report on crashes and fires and the tragedies that make the news, we rarely tell the stories of the days of joy that came before the moments of sorrow. It is not because we believe those days are unimportant or because we don't care. It is rare that a family chooses to publicly share a loved one's life when they are in the midst of grieving a public tragedy.
Beth Higgins and Chrissy Sabol chose to share their brother's story. It makes him more than a crash victim; it shows him to be a loving son, brother and friend.
That tribute certainly beats a display of rubber on the road.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

More about election night

So here's the thing about newspapers and election night: It is not our busiest day of the year, but it is the only day we know ahead of time that we're going to be this busy.

We schedule for the deadline rush; we bring in food for the staff.

We work very hard to get as many results in the paper and online as we can, but we inevitably miss some.

We know that we won't be able to get all the results in the paper on election night; many races will not even have results until early morning, long after we've gone to press.

Where we can't get the results you need, we try to help you find them. Check your county web site to find your local results and if there is something specific that you need and can't find, send me an email. We'll try to help.

Election overload

Hear that collective sigh of relief spreading across Pennsylvania? That's because today is Election Day, bringing to an end the Robo-calls, junk mail and TV commercials that have been making people cranky in the last few weeks.
I had four voice-mail messages on Monday from former Gov. Tom Ridge alone, not to mention the half-dozen others. When was the last time you watched TV without enduring commercials for Michael Nutter or some candidate in New Jersey? Or, sorted through the mail without ending up with an armload of glossy candidate endorsements headed for the recycling bin?
So, here's a question for candidates -- why not advertise in a newspaper instead?
You don't hear people say, "If I see one more election ad in the paper ... "
They say, "If I get one more call ..." or "If I see one more commercial ..."
How many of you have voted for an opponent just because you were sick of a candidate's negative TV commercials?
Newspaper ads don't make you get out of your chair to answer the phone six times a night or clog your mailbox or offend your sensibilities with bad acting.
Community newspapers like this one are invited into more than 23,000 homes a day with the potential for 46,000 or more voters seeing an ad. And talk about target marketing -- newspaper readers are far more likely than the average person to be informed voters who want to have a say in how their town and school board are managed.
Some may say, "but a lot of people don't read newspapers anymore." True, but those who don't have time to read or choose not to be informed about their community probably don't have time to go to the polls or make an informed decision either.
A candidate may reach more households by Robo-calling. But is it better to have 10,000 hangups or 500 people who read your message?
Just my thoughts.
But, feel free to share this notion with candidates or campaign managers for the future. Next April when the spring primary rolls around, tell them to call their community newspaper instead of you.