Tuesday, June 28, 2022
June 28, 2022

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From the Newsroom: Not our best efforts

By , Columbian Editor

Ugh. One of the worst things about newspapers is, when something doesn’t turn out well, everyone in town sees it.

Let’s talk about what some readers said they didn’t like about last weekend’s newspapers, why I agreed, and what we are going to do differently.

I got the most feedback about Sunday, which featured a very nice advertisement from Chuck’s Produce on one of those half-page sheets that wraps around the A section. We call these sheets spadeas.

The problem was, when you took the spadea off, the first two pages were a cut sheet that fell off into your hands. And of the remaining four pages, one was a full-page ad and the others had ads too, leaving little room for news.

The same thing happened in the C, or local, section. Because of our manufacturing process, our A and C sections must match. So after you removed the spadea, you were left with a loose two-page sheet of news and a four-page section containing 11 paid obituaries and very little else.

Here’s what happened: Chuck’s new owners decided to buy a spadea on relatively short notice. Our press schedule was already locked in. We knew the spadeas would take four pages of our press capacity in A and C, so we increased to our maximum possible size, which created the cut sheets. When 11 obituaries arrived Friday, the C section spadea had been designed, so the ads had to go into the rest of the section.

Frankly, I am glad I didn’t have to lay out the paper; it was an incredibly difficult challenge.

I’m told that Chuck’s has purchased three more Sunday spadeas, including Easter Sunday. But this time, we know far enough ahead and can split our press run. We’ll print the A and C sections, with their spadeas, an hour or two ahead of the B and D sections, then assemble them. Because A and C are printing by themselves, and not with the rest of the paper, they can have more pages. It should result in much better Sunday papers.

Headlines on deadlines

Writing headlines is hard work. Usually, headlines are written on deadline by copy editors after the story is placed on the page, so that the editor knows how much space there is, and whether the headline needs any extra-bold words as part of a design element.

We generally rise to the challenge. Over the years, our copy editors have won many awards for their headlines. So if we write one that isn’t up to par, it stings a little.

Such was the case with a front-page headline last Saturday: “Light rail study sparks ‘crime train’ concerns.” The story was about trying to track crime on Portland’s MAX light rail system, which could come to Vancouver as part of the Interstate 5 Bridge replacement project. The story, by reporter Sarah Wolf, pointed out that security will have to be addressed no matter what type of transit comes to Vancouver, and that during the failed Columbia River Crossing, opponents had criticized light rail on the grounds it would increase crime. It was a good story!

I thought the headline was close, but it missed the mark by implying there is a new study about crime on MAX. There is none. In fact, when Sarah tried to find the data, she was met with a hopeless bureaucracy of overlapping police jurisdictions. No one seems to track this data systemwide.

Also, the story didn’t contain the phrase “crime train,” which was a pejorative used by CRC opponents. (It was the slug, or computer name, of the story.) Next time, we won’t do that, as it probably led the headline writer astray. At any rate, I went online Saturday morning and rewrote the web version of the headline.

If that wasn’t bad enough, one eagle-eyed reader pointed out that a secondary photo of a passenger boarding a train showed a Portland Streetcar, not MAX. Sigh. I wrote a correction, which we published Sunday.

Let’s close on happier note. One of the best things about newspapers is that you throw everything out at the end of the day and start fresh tomorrow.


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