Paul Rilling: The Star’s man in Montgomery
Nov 01, 2012 | 2463 views |  0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The Star is once again providing its readers with news of Alabama state government through its own Montgomery-based reporter.

Tim Lockette, now the capitol and statewide reporter, wrote at least 13 articles on state topics in October on such issues as the state constitutional amendments, charter schools, the poverty increase in Calhoun County and the 3rd District congressional race. The articles add much to The Star’s coverage of state news. For many years, the capitol reporter was an important part of The Star’s news staff. The position was dropped four years ago as The Star slimmed its staff. There may be a downside to the new arrangement — one less reporter covering local news.

One of Lockette’s articles considered proposed Amendment 4, which would remove segregationist language from the Alabama Constitution. A similar amendment was narrowly rejected in 2004, primarily because it also would have removed from the Constitution a provision stating that there was no right to public education. That provision is stirring controversy this time around because Amendment 4 would keep it in the Constitution.

Joe Reed, chairman of the Alabama Democratic Conference, is quoted in the story as opposing the amendment, but he gave no reason. The article did not follow up on the views of black leaders statewide. What are the positions of other influential groups, the Alabama Education Association, business groups, Alabama Arise (Oct. 14, page 1A)?

Covering the news

An excellent article by Cameron Steele about the evolving changes from print media to the Internet described the problems of rural and elderly people who may lack access to high-speed Internet. This problem will be solved in time as access spreads (Oct. 28, 1A). The future of news may be obvious, but its shape is fuzzy.

Will the advertising money follow? The fact that print news no longer makes enough money doesn’t necessarily mean that local online news will. There may be some profitable national news sites, but there is little evidence of successful local ones. Will the local news be there? Papers shifting to online news almost invariably reduce staffs. The Birmingham, Mobile and Huntsville newspapers will be interesting models to watch. As they evolve to total online operations, will the quality of the news be maintained?

Talladega’s ‘big one’

On Sunday, Oct. 7, there was a 25-car pileup on the last lap of the Good Sam Roadside Assistance 500 at Talladega Superspeedway. There was no real coverage of the “big one” in The Star’s online news Oct. 8. There was a story on the race headlined “RCR’s season of misery continues,” which briefly referred to the crash. The Oct. 9 newspaper did carry a good photo of the accident, by Dan Deems. Several stories mentioned the crash that day.

The best description was in Joe Medley’s column, headed “What does Dega have to do to get love?” There were four paragraphs about the crash beginning with the 22nd paragraph of the column (Oct.9, 3B). A massive crash at Talladega merited stronger coverage. Was the lack of a printed paper Monday, Oct. 8, a factor in the reporting of this story? It was old news by Oct. 9.

Reporting on the election

On runoff election day, Oct. 9, The Star ran a long article predicting a low turnout compared to the primary (1A). So what was the turnout in Anniston? The Star didn’t tell us. The Anniston election story, by Laura Camper, gave percentages of votes for the runoff candidates, but it gave no figures. Millie Harris won 60 percent of the votes in the Ward 4 City Council election, but 60 percent of what? Fifty votes, 500? There were no numbers for candidates or turnout (Oct.10, 1A).

Reports on other local elections, in Piedmont, Ohatchee, Jacksonville and Hobson City, did include numbers along with percentages.

TV Star reversal

The Star does listen. Complaints were loud and numerous, so the tabloid-size TV Star returned Oct. 26. But some listings included in the old small-print version have been dropped. The weekeday listings on Page 1 included only the nine broadcast stations. None of the cable listings were included. There were designated channel listings for Cable One and Charter, but listings for Dish and DirectTV were left out.

Star Blips:

• The last obituary on Page 6A jumps to Page 7A, losing some words on the way (Oct. 2).

• The groundbreaking for Freedom Riders Park will be 9 a.m. Thursday (Oct. 14, 3E), or it will be 10 a.m. Thursday (Oct. 16, 3A).

• A headline said, “Ala. congressman: Half in District 3 are living below the poverty line.” The story said it was the challenger for the 3rd District congressional seat who made the inaccurate statement (Oct. 31, 7A).

Paul Rilling is a retired former editor at The Star.
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