Thursday, March 02, 2006

CLASS NOTES: For Thurs., Feb. 23 by Seth Kershner / Lauren Stevens/Kevin Moran

Class Notes for Thursday, February 23, 2006.

By Seth Kershner

We were joined in class by two local newsmakers: Lauren Stevens, former
Dean of Freshmen at Williams and the founder of the Williamstown Advocate;
and Kevin Moran, managing editor of the county.s very own Berkshire Eagle.

First, a word about Lauren:
Started the Advocate as a town-focused weekly paper. He began by
soliciting funds from the community and eventually sought out the
Northeast.s .dean of weekly papers,. Connecticut.s Bob Estabrook, for
guidance. The advice was appreciated, as Lauren came into this project
without the aid of a journalism background. What inspired him to bring
this paper to the community was a concern for the environmental issues
that circulate around northern Berkshire county.
In Lauren.s opinion, a town needs a paper for a informed electorate. This
need is especially acute for New England. Our towns our only as good as
the information each resident brings with them into the meetinghouse.

Lauren began the class by reading from the Autobiography of William A
White was born in Emporia, KS, in 1868 and went on to a respected career
as the publisher and editor of that city.s newspaper, the Gazette.
White clearly felt suited to the job, relishing .all the kind offices of
the country editor.. Although he surely enjoyed being the college town.s
premier newspaperman, the position also had drawbacks. There was a time,
for instance, when an army colonel who had been running for office slugged
White as they crossed paths on the street. Apparently, this was the
embittered politician.s comeuppance for a disparaging editorial White had
published just days earlier.
The idealism of the country editor at the turn of the century is important
to note, since a good deal of class discussion centered on the differences
between his generation and ours. White.s goal as the editor was .to make
a paper for the best people of the city,. with the reporters and editors
producing a product by the end of the day that would represent .the
average thought of the best people.. And, while White was committed to
the Progressive cause, he announced his political allegiances in his very
first editorial, making sure that the Gazette.s readers would know that
political views would only come through on the editorial pages.

Lauren posed this question to the class: With the advances of the
Internet giving news-readers increased independence from a town.s paper
for up-to-date information, can we still .meet the colonel. in the street?
Moran suggested . at least with online news-makers like iBrattleboro .
that these kinds of giraffes maintained a quite active presence in the
community they covered. The class mostly seemed to agree that
reader-producer interactions of the kind described in White.s memoirs can
still cause publishers to look over their shoulders as they walk through
the town center.

On the subject of White.s description of the Gazette as a source of news
to enlighten .the average thought of the best people,. Densmore suggested
that we might see this as value judgment, and a tough one to make, withal.
Lauren admitted that this conception of a newspaper.s readership probably
guided his policies at the Advocate. This was a paper intended for an
educated, interested audience.
For Moran, the Eagle.s job was to engage everyone, to .give all segments
of the county something to read about.. In response to Lauren.s question,
Is the Eagle for the college-educated?, Moran said that comprehension and
legibility constituted part of the public service aim of a paper like the
Eagle, and that this meant high school students would not have trouble
engaging with its content.

In the discussion.s branches there were many other comments about a
paper.s duties and obligations. Moran said that his personal philosophy
is to provide content that attracts the young (e.g. .gadget stories.)
without alienating the trusty .core. of a paper.s audience. This is .a
heckuva balance,. for the editor. .Corporations that don.t pay attention
to changing markets will die out,. he affirmed, highlighting the
importance of any newspaper adapting to emerging technologies.

On the topic of emerging and established technologies, the class was
stimulated by Lauren.s question, Is the web or print more satisfying when
we turn to the news?
After Moran said in his response that he thinks print will be around for a
long time, Densmore posed a follow-up question, guided by some of the
students. reservations:
What about the .big tent.? Will print . to survive . have to surrender
its role as exclusive provider of global news for its audience, or will it
have to serve a niche market, instead?

- -

In an interesting answer to an important question, What is newsworthy?,
Moran claimed that .change. is the thing. Whatever pushes itself out into
the reporter.s field of vision is probably change of one kind or another.

This question led into the sensitive matter of the editor.s responsibility
to publish (or not) the Mohammed cartoons which have become such a
cultural flashpoint.
Note: Only three papers thus far in the U.S. have decided to reprint these

- Moran noted that this was a difficult issue, calling upon the
editor to balance the paper.s role in .provoking thought. and stimulating
discussion with the understanding that you just .don.t scream .fire!. in a
crowded theatre..
- Densmore suggested a bridge at this point, saying that if the
decision were his to make, he would not show the images in print.
However, when the cartoons are discussed, he would provide a link to the
images for the interested reader to view online.

- - -
Craig.s List. The San Francisco interview.

Craig Newmark, who founded the online interactive classifieds listing that
has nettled publishers of traditional papers in the U.S., started this
service as a tech-news mailing list with a very limited circulation.

Some interesting tid-bits about Craig:
Says that he is concerned about the job-loss in the news industry
attributable perhaps to his own success.
The American press is in decline. There are some key sources of this
fall: the ebbing quality of investigate reporting or the press. watch-dog
role; the failure of the White House press corps to ask tough questions.
A solution? Since Newmark says that .the big problem of newspapers is the
problem of trust,. he sees better investigative reporting as a solution.
Greater trust comes from the feeling that .The Reformer. or .The Eagle. is
watching out for you.

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