Paul Rilling: The Star and Pappy Dunn
Aug 31, 2012 | 2365 views |  0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
In August, Anniston lost one of its most respected and popular residents, Calhoun County Commissioner James “Pappy” Dunn.

The Star ran a front-page obituary Aug. 15. The story, by Laura Johnson, reflected his achievements as an educator and county official. It quoted people who knew and worked with him through his many years of service to this community.

Yet the story contained inaccuracies and confused wording that were embarrassing. The story reported that Dunn died on Friday, Aug. 10. The official obituary and later stories in The Star gave the date as Tuesday, Aug. 14. The lead paragraph said, in part, “On Tuesday the door to James ‘Pappy’ Dunn’s office at the Ken Joiner Calhoun County Administration Building was dark, its door shut…” It is fairly clear what the story was trying to say, but read literally it said that the office door was dark …. its door shut. The office door’s door? How could such errors have gotten by any editor?

It would have been appropriate for The Star to have covered the funeral of this public figure. The newspaper did carry the text of the eulogy given at the service by David Satcher, with a large characteristic photo of Dunn by Ken Elkins (Aug. 26, Page 1E).

Covering elections

There was substantial election coverage leading up to local elections in area towns and cities. There were summaries of money raised and spent in Anniston and Oxford elections (Aug. 11, 1A). The Anniston article, by Laura Camper, reported funds raised by the candidates but did not include the sources of funds donated. The Oxford story, by Patrick McCreless, did report some names of contributors to mayoral candidates, particularly from companies doing business with the city. Another article, also by McCreless, reported additional contributions to Mayor Leon Smith, naming several donors (Aug. 22, 1A). It would have been useful to voters if information about poll opening and closing times were published the day before the election.

The Star carried complete reports of area local elections Aug. 29, including interviews with winners and editorial comment. A follow-up article by Tim Lockette considered the voter turnout compared to past elections (Aug. 30, 1A).

A story from Piedmont, by Eddie Burkhalter, dealt with an eight-year-old incident involving a candidate for public office who fathered a child with a teenage woman (Aug. 22, 3A). It was a long story developed from an interview with the candidate and with officials in California, where the incident occurred.

Why did The Star publish this story just a few days before the election? Was it raised as an issue in the campaign, or did The Star decide to raise the issue? The story did not say how The Star learned about the incident or when. Not all news has to be reported, particularly news this old, and the news media need to consider the timing of such a story.

Running the Woodstock

The Star provided solid coverage of the Woodstock 5K race, both as a civic event and as an outstanding sports contest. There were a variety of news and feature stories leading up to the race. On Aug. 5, the day after, there was a front-page article by McCreless, along with the impressive photo of the mass start, by Trent Penny. There was a special sports section including six stories and 10 pictures by Penny and Terry Lamb, and the complete results. The section front showed the gripping, close finish in the men’s division, by Penny. Al Muskewitz and Bran Strickland covered the men’s and women’s races effectively. Joe Medley wrote a warm feature about a special group of contestants, Robyn’s Runners.

Perhaps the primary winners might have received some front-page space. The section-front photo should have had a cutline identifying the men shown. But it was very good coverage of an exciting event.

Some Star dims in August:

• When the TV listings in the old Escapes section were folded into the new Life & Arts section, at least eight cable channels that were included in Escapes were omitted from the new “network locator” listings. These include major news channels such as CNN, CNBC and MSNBC. Others were TV-2, GSN, MTV, VH1 and FNC. TV listings for Aug. 10 and 11 were left out entirely, a gap between the old and new systems.

• An article, “Councilman Little deflects charges of ordering employee,” ran on Page 6A, Aug. 2. The original allegation ran on Page 1A. Shouldn’t the answer have been given equal prominence? And why “deflects” rather than denies?

Paul Rilling is a retired former editor at The Star.
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