Sunday, August 21, 2011

Local stories highlight community, provide news you can't find elsewhere

From the newsroom

Carole Tarrant, editor

carole.tarrant @roanoke.com





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From time to time, readers send me clippings cut out from The Roanoke Times. More often than not, the clippings come stuffed in envelopes with no return address. I don't know who sends them, but I know they thought enough to care -- to cut out the articles, affix a stamp, lick an envelope and put it in the mailbox.

What usually triggers these envelopes is a reader driven mad (or at least mildly exasperated) by our lapses in grammar or spelling. These kind, eagle-eyed readers proofread the paper and send their marked-up copies back to us. Believe me, we appreciate these efforts and recognize them as a deserved scold.

But a different sort of clipping-stuffed envelope arrived last week. It provided a good example of a complaint -- and also a compliment -- I hear about our front page from time to time.

One of the enclosed clippings was of the Aug. 10 front page. The article with the biggest photo and headline -- what we call in our newsroom jargon the "centerpiece" -- was about a Roanoke engineer's attempt to renovate a highly visible old wreck of a house off Campbell Avenue. So many Roanokers have driven past this once-charming house and wondered about its crumbling state. Reporter Cody Lowe explained how John Garland bought it and was helping to contribute to the renaissance of the Mountain View neighborhood.

Why was this clipping included? Well, the anonymous reader let me have it, scribbling, "This is crap! Not front page news" across the article in heavy black marker. "Get rid of your editor!"

In contrast, the reader included another clipping, of the Aug. 9 front page. Our centerpiece that day was the story about the stock market's stunning 634-point drop the day before. Across the top of this article the reader wrote and underlined, "This is front page news."

Point taken. This reader represents the camp that wants the daily newspaper to be a mirror of the nation and world -- not just Southwest Virginia -- from the previous day.

Yet a week earlier I received a phone message from a reader who effusively praised the local emphasis of our front page. She cited reporter Beth Macy's update on a Catawba woman whose husband died suddenly, leaving her to fend for five kids and the family farm by herself. Our coverage of Ginger Hillery's plight has emphasized how much the community turned out to support her.

The caller said this kind of story was specifically why she kept subscribing to the paper, a comment that heartened me because it showed she recognized our deliberate choice to highlight local stories that distinguish our community. We aim to build our front page around news you can't find elsewhere -- not on cnn.com the night before, and certainly in greater depth than a local TV or radio report.

Page 3 of our paper carries a large Nation/World banner. We view that as our second front page and a place to highlight what, in another era with far fewer media options, might have dominated our front page. Occasionally, as with the Dow's historic drop, a national or international story rises in such significance that we give it centerpiece play.

So, what do you think of our front-page mix? You're welcome to email, call or talk more about this on the From the Newsroom blog (blogs.roanoke.com/newsroom/).

Social media

Last week The Roanoke Times reached its 5,000th "like" on Facebook, an occasion that prompts me to invite you to check out our newsroom's ventures in social media. If you're on Facebook, what I'm about to tell you likely isn't new. You've already discovered that a site that began as friends sharing personal info with other friends has grown vastly beyond that. It's where you see a high school friend post photos of the latest grandchild, sure, but also where you find another friend linking to an article she found interesting. Facebook connects you but also can feed your brain.

Your reading can expand even further if you "like" a publication like ours on Facebook. Once you do, the articles we post on The Roanoke Times Facebook page will join the flow of your social stream. We take care not to flood you with too many links -- just a few a day -- and we enjoy responding to your comments.

Twitter, too, provides another new and even speedier avenue for getting the latest from The Roanoke Times. You're welcome to follow @roanoketimes as well the more than 20 journalists (including me, @caroletarrant) who tweet from individual accounts. We tweet live from government meetings and high school games. We tweet breaking crime news as well as local weather observations (that would be from @KevinMyattWx, one of our latest staff members to join Twitter). To see a list of the Roanoke Times twitterati, go to twitter.com/#!/roanoketimes/roanoke-times-tweets/members.

The coordinator behind what we post and tweet is Stephanie Ogilvie (@smogilvie or email stephanie.ogilvie@roanoke.com). She's at the helm of our newsroom Facebook and Twitter accounts most weekdays and the voice you'll hear "broadcasting" online to our social friends.

So if you'd like, go "like" us or follow us and tell us how we're doing.

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