Thursday, September 23, 2021
Sept. 23, 2021

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From the Newsroom: ‘Roll Call’ may be near final votes

By , Columbian Editor
Published:

Update: On May 18, Richard Thomas wrote that his congressional voting feature has in fact ceased publication.

The heart of a good newspaper is local news, which is reported and edited by people who work for the paper. Daily papers also use wire news, which are the regional, national and international stories distributed by organizations including the Associated Press, Reuters and Tribune News Service, formerly McClatchy-Tribune.

A third major chunk of newspaper content comes from the syndicates. These are not the kinds of syndicates you would see in my friend Lou Brancaccio’s favorite movie, “The Godfather.” No, these are companies that connect individual content creators with newspapers, sort of like a professional athlete might employ a business agent.

At The Columbian, we buy a lot of things from syndicates, including comics, editorial cartoons, opinion columns, crossword puzzles, horoscopes, the TV listings grid and the ever-popular Aces on Bridge, which Merridee Hanson and I tried to cancel one time and found out just how many folks read it religiously.

A couple of items involving syndicated content crossed my desk this week, so I thought I would share them. First, I had yet another person ask why we dropped Malcolm Berko’s personal finance column. The answer is that Berko died in June 2019, and his columns contained timely stock tips and are thus not eligible to rerun. Our readers still miss his bombastic “Tell-it-as-I-see-it” style of writing, although I thought he sometimes went overboard. I also wasn’t a fan of syndicated commentator Thomas Sowell, who retired in 2016, although I still get questions about him a few times per year.

The latest retirement is Richard Thomas, editor of the syndicated feature he called “Voterama in Congress,” but we ran under the headline “Washington, D.C. Roll Call.” Unlike the big syndicates that send us “Peanuts” or the horoscope, Thomas was self-syndicated.

For many years Thomas offered a careful, factual summary of bills voted upon by the House and Senate, along with a list of how each member of Washington’s congressional delegation voted.

In a letter I received Monday, Thomas wrote the column would cease publication. “As I approach retirement, I have been unable to find a buyer capable of sustaining the service in a way consistent with our editorial standards. … It is with regret I share this news with you.”

Then on Thursday, he sent a letter saying his Monday letter had piqued a buyer’s interest, so his column will continue at least while a possible sale is explored.

Either way we’ll look for a worthy successor, but people will miss Thomas. Although the report was long and windy at times (an accurate reflection of Congress, in my view), it was never cutting or partisan. Our readers enjoyed it, and sometimes would call me when they didn’t see it in the paper because of congressional vacations.

Another Monday surprise

Thomas’ retirement notice wasn’t my only Monday morning surprise this week. Our e-edition failed to include Page A7. Page A6 was there, and you could turn from it to Page A8, but we were missing A7, which was supposed to be the editorial page.

We produced the page as usual on Friday, and I even proofed it before I went home, but somehow one of the software tags got coded wrong by one of the humans. Friday is a busy day around here, and it was easy to make the mistake, and because that page wasn’t supposed to show up online until Monday morning with the rest of the paper, we didn’t notice it.

My avid reader friend Don was the first to notice, and sent me an early email. When I got to the office I checked with Web Editor Amy Libby, and the content from that page had posted to our website; it just wasn’t in the e-edition replica newspaper. Different software, different systems, different results.

To keep readers from missing out, we restored the page to the e-edition by midmorning. But because most people had already read the paper by then, we redated it and printed it Tuesday in both the e-edition and the print edition. To give web readers something fresh on Tuesday morning, Editorial Page Editor Greg Jayne found some bonus editorial columns to offer. It wasn’t the perfect solution, but we tried to do our best.

We’re taking some steps that we think will keep this from happening again, but it reminds me of the saying: “To really mess up, use a computer.”

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