Paul Rilling: Covered in snow in The Star
Feb 06, 2014 | 4233 views |  0 comments | 42 42 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Local newspapers show their value during community crises. They keep people in touch with events as they occur, telling them where they can get help and how to avoid trouble. During such times a newspaper is a resource that brings people together.

The Star did its job with distinction during the unexpected great snow freeze of Jan. 28-31. In a Sunday column, Star Editor Bob Davis described how the newspaper focused its resources on the breaking story and the difficulties that faced reporters, photographers, editors, printers and carriers. It is a proud story (Feb. 2, Page 2D).

From Jan. 29 through Feb. 2, The Star carried 28 local stories on the storm. With a story well told through pictures, there were 23 photos of snow, ice and accidents. The front pages Wednesday, Jan. 29, “SNOW DAZE,” and Thursday, Jan. 30, “SNOW PROBLEMS,” with large headlines and striking five-column color photos, had strong impact. There were stories about Anniston public-works employees working through the night, about some children spending a night in school, on the conditions of roads and the number of accidents.

Most of all there were stories of people helping each other, offering rides and refreshments to strangers. There was even a store that gave food away. People will save these papers for history.

Sadly, few were able to read them in print Wednesday and Thursday, although many did read them online. The print edition reached your homes Thursday afternoon and Friday.

Information needed

The article, “City looks to restructure internal departments,” is a prime example of a story that should have been held until it could be more completely reported.

It said, “Anniston wants to change its system of hiring and disciplining city workers…” and that the change would be part of a bill to be introduced in the Alabama Legislature. Has the City Council approved the plan? The story, by Patrick McCreless, quoted the city manager and the mayor. It quoted no council member and said none of the three members of the Civil Service Board could be reached.

The nature of the proposed change was far from clear. The article said 139 city employees now under civil service would be affected. How affected? Would all city employees other than police and fire personnel lose their civil-service status? What would take its place? There is no apparent deadline that required this story to be published that day. It should have waited for further information (Feb. 1, 1A).

Last year’s teams

A story from the Religion News Service appeared to be a topical article, “Does God care who wins the Super Bowl?” But the content seemed oddly dated. The article referred to the teams that played in the Super Bowl last year. The fifth paragraph said, “… both the Ravens and the Niners have more than their share of Bible-quoting believers …” There was no mention of the teams that played in this year’s Super Bowl (Feb. 1, 1B).

Kitty Stone’s location

The controversy in Jacksonville over the location of a planned new elementary school to replace the aging Kitty Stone school was one of the major area stories in January. It certainly came to the attention of readers when The Star’s Speak Out carried 19 letters opposing the moving of the school from the present location (Jan. 15 through 25). Several Jacksonville residents have criticized The Star’s coverage, or lack of coverage. Was the criticism justified?

If it had happened in Anniston there probably would have been more comprehensive coverage earlier. Some readers may remember the intense debate over the placement of the Anniston Middle School. The Jan. 19 article looking at the arguments for and against building the school on the present Kitty Stone site or on George Douthit Drive could have been written earlier. The Jan. 10 story could have been better organized. It didn’t refer to the intense public discussion at the school board meeting until the 15th paragraph.

Overall, however, The Star did a fairly good job covering this story. The newspaper followed each step of the planning process for the new school. There were 11 articles in 2013, dealing with financing construction of the school, traffic conditions at the two sites and the pros and cons of both sites. The Star’s coverage included community discussions of the issue Sept. 13, 2013, and Sept. 19. Last month The Star published five articles, including one on the school board’s decision to build the new school on Douthit Drive (Jan. 22, 1A) and one about a crowd of protesters at a City Council meeting (Jan. 28, 3A). Laura Gaddy wrote all the stories.

Paul Rilling is a retired former editor at The Star.
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