The editor of this column has saved me from making embarrassing errors more than once. That’s how the system works. Every local article in The Star is the product of at least two people, the writer and the editor. The editor looks for errors of fact or grammar, for thoroughness of reporting, and for effectiveness of communication. The job of the editor is to make the story better.
Editing has always been a problem at The Star. Star reporters tend to be talented but inexperienced. They can require more guidance and editing than would be true in a large paper like The Birmingham News, which usually does not employ beginning reporters. The problem is finding the time to provide that kind of editing. The problem has become worse with a smaller staff. The paper shows it.
The lead story on the front page Dec. 2 covered Anniston’s need to redraw the lines of the four voting districts to reflect changes in the city’s population. The story, by Laura Camper, included good information. There also were repetitive passages and some awkward wording. One important fact was wrong.
On page 10A, the continued portion of the story said that “(T)hree of the city’s four wards are majority minority. Ward 4 is the city’s only white majority ward…” A useful chart carried with the story showed that two wards, 1 and 4, are majority white wards, and Wards 2 and 3 are majority black. The term “majority minority” is jargon for majority black and might not be clear to some readers.
The lead paragraph of the story said ward boundaries would have to be changed, “separating some voters while uniting others,” whatever that means. The second paragraph again said new boundaries would shift some voters into different wards. The story does not appear to have been edited.
Another story that does not seem to have benefited from an editor’s touch was an article about Oxford’s housing development, headlined “BOOM,” on Page 1A on Dec. 4. By Patrick McCreless, the story traced the history of Oxford’s housing boom of the 1990s and early 2000 years and suggested it will resume when the housing market recovers from the recession. There is not a lot of news in the story. Oxford’s housing boom ended in 2008. Predictions about the future are speculation, although reasonable, informed speculation.
There is value in bringing together this much information. Oxford’s housing development is an important part of the city’s overall economic growth. The story is well researched. The trouble with it is that all the research seems to be in the story. When a story goes on too long, it loses readers. A shorter story would have had more impact. You don’t need four quotes from a source when one would make his point. News writing is supposed to be tight and concise. This story took up 70-plus inches when 35 inches would have done the job better.
The article was well presented on the front page, with color and a large headline, but when it went inside the paper, there was a page full of solid, gray type. Few readers would have stuck it out. Some of the statistical data could have been shown in charts to save space and help ease the eyes.
Some of December’s best:
• “Nutcracker memories,” by Brett Buckner, Dec. 4, 1D. It reviewed the history of the Nutcracker ballet in Anniston from 1984, using interviews with past youth participants now grown up and still active with the event.
• “The great unknown,” by Tim Lockette, and “MDA looking for a few good contractors,” by Camper. Two good stories about the hopes and problems of the development of McClellan. It should have been cross-referenced as a package (Dec. 11, 1A).
• Coverage of the retrial of Preston Louis Moore, by Cameron Steele, Dec. 7, 1A, and Dec. 9, 1A. The stories provided solid reporting of the testimony while including the human factors involved.
• “Attorney, teacher, judge,” a warm retrospective of the career of Judge Malcolm Street Jr., interviewed by Steele on the beginning of his last year on the bench (Dec. 26, 1A).
Paul Rilling is a retired former editor at The Star.