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News / Clark County News

From the Newsroom: Fighting computer gremlins

By Craig Brown, Columbian Editor
Published: June 1, 2024, 6:10am

I’ve been very proud of our news staff lately. Our Sports team traveled around the state to cover the spring championships. Scott Hewitt, Taylor Balkom and freelancer James Rexroad offered a strong local Memorial Day story about a missing World War II soldier’s remains being identified and getting a military funeral. And Alexis Weisend debated whether this is the right time for local renters to buy a house.

But we’ve had a few hiccups, too.

Where are the comics?

If memory serves me right, it was back in 1981 when I joined the staff of my college newspaper, the Daily Evergreen. One of the first things I learned is that newspapers and technology sometimes aren’t compatible.

It’s still true, as Columbian readers noticed when we weren’t able to print the Monday and Tuesday comics on schedule (they finally appeared in print on Wednesday).

Here’s what happened: We buy the page, ready to download and make into printing plates, from a vendor. A while ago the vendor sent its customers an email explaining that beginning with the Monday comics, the download process would be changed. Somehow we missed the email, and didn’t find out until Sunday, when the vendor’s customer service department was closed for the holiday weekend. A phone call on Tuesday morning cleared things up, and we are now back in business.

Those sneaky words

As if that wasn’t enough of an example of newspapers vs. technology, reader David Percival and his wife spotted an ongoing annoyance, this time in the “To Your Health” advice column.

“I read the online version,” he writes. “My wife reads the printed version. In the online version there are occasionally completely out of nowhere insertions into articles that get both humorous and annoying.”

This problem originates with the ePaper vendor’s software. It sometimes sucks words out of adjoining articles or advertisements on the page and adds them to the pop-up text. We know what the problem is: In order to make the story pop up when you click on it, the software relies on little invisible boxes drawn around each element on the page. If the invisible lines overlap, multiple boxes are ingested into the same text file. This occurs when the ePaper is processed, usually between midnight and 4 a.m., when there are no humans to proofread it.

You can get around the error by just enlarging the page and not clicking into the story. But that’s annoying too.

My apologies for both these problems.

Better labels for opinions

Good community newspapers offer many things to readers, including opinion content. News gives readers the “What?” and opinion gives them the “So what?” Both perspectives are useful as we try to understand our complex world.

In The Columbian’s print edition, you’ll find a daily Opinion page, which is clearly labeled. Our regular readers know that the editorials, columns, letters and cartoons are meant to express a point of view on the issues, to help you decide the “So What?” even if you don’t agree with the writer’s perspective.

But online, it can be harder to discern the difference between news and opinion. So we recently began adding this label to our online opinion content: “The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.”

I think the additional label will help online readers.

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