Paul Rilling: Remembering Ken Elkins — The Star did good job with tributes to late photographer
May 04, 2012 | 2544 views |  0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
In April, The Star said goodbye to the late Ken Elkins, one of its brightest stars for more than 30 years. The Star got it right. The obituary, by Cameron Steele, focused on the stories of reporters and photographers who worked with Elkins in the field and saw him take some of the photos that are his legacy. Their memories reflected the affection and admiration for Elkins from generations of Star staff members (April 13, Page 1A).

A special section containing many of his photos followed on April 15, along with articles by former Star reporters Basil Penny and Rick Bragg, and by David Cummings, a student of the craft of photography. The Star placed 217 Elkins photos on its website.

George Smith referred in his column to the “lens in his soul” (Aug. 18, 2A). In his column, Phillip Tutor wrote, “The splendor of Ken Elkins’ photographs rests in their ability to take us places: into peoples’ hearts, into their homes, into their minds” (April 20, 11A).

Pulitzer winners

On April 16, the Pulitzer Prize winners were announced. Among the winners was the Tuscaloosa News for its coverage of last year’s deadly tornadoes. Many of the state’s newspapers treated this honor to an Alabama newspaper as important news in their April 17 editions. The Star did not carry the news April 17 or since.

Big story on Little

Probably the most controversial story The Star published in April was “Uncompromising,” an in-depth profile of Anniston City Councilman Ben Little. The article, by Steele, covered Little’s boyhood in South Carolina, his military career and his public career in Anniston (April 1, 1A). Star editor Bob Davis reported a strong response from readers, some of it negative (April 22, 3D).

Should The Star have published this kind of long profile on one local public figure, particularly this one? I think the story was a solid effort to better understand a man Davis referred to as “a key newsmaker.” The story was justified. It was well-written and fair to Little.

Yet, the story could have been better. It was much too long and required tight editing. There was information that could have been left out, such as the 11 paragraphs about Little’s high school basketball team. It tells nothing about Little that is not told in other parts of the story. In at least three places in the story, local people are quoted for and against Little. This much duplication does not improve the story.

Little’s pre-council public life in Anniston is barely mentioned. He left the church he pastored taking “half the congregation” with him; he was a member of the county Board of Elections; he served as board president of Community Services, a local anti-poverty agency.

What happened at Gaines Chapel Church, and why? How was he appointed to the Board of Elections? Why did he resign as board president of Community Services? The story reported that he was asked to serve as board president by the Calhoun County Commission. In fact, he was chosen as president by board members. (Full disclosure: I served on that board).

Consolidating news coverage

There has been a reorganization of the relationship between The Star and three of the weekly papers operated by Consolidation Publishing Co., The Star’s parent company. The reporters of the Jacksonville, Oxford and Piedmont weeklies have been moved into The Star’s newsroom and now work as part of a larger newsroom. Star Managing Editor Anthony Cook described the new system in an email, “The Star reporters and the weekly reporters are now one staff working for all four papers. So instead of having one full-time reporter responsible for producing copy, they (the weeklies) now have eight full-time reporters contributing stories to each paper.”

It makes sense for The Star and its Calhoun County weeklies to cooperate closely. By using the weekly reporters regularly, The Star expands its coverage of the county. The benefits to the weekly papers are less obvious. News stories by the weekly writers, which would have been used first by the weeklies, now appear in the next day’s paper, usually The Star. Will that detract from the appeal of the weeklies to their readers?

The Star ran a front-page story about the city of Jacksonville considering a ban on unmanned collections. The story was by Paige Rentz, the new Jacksonville reporter who was identified as a Star staff writer (April 27, 1A). The story appeared in the Jacksonville News on May 1, with Rentz identified there as a Jacksonville News writer. Perhaps there will be more and better regional coverage by this combined staff than by The Star and the weeklies operating separately. Time will tell.

Paul Rilling is a retired former editor at The Star.
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