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Kitsap ‘Life,’ always changing

September 28th, 2012 by David Nelson

Our Sunday features section will have a new look beginning Oct. 7, giving our ‘Life’ pages a more local feel and a little more variety. At a newspaper where there’s always more to do than we have hands to do it with, this change allows for a more streamlined process in-house and a fuller, more engaging features page on our best-read day of the week.

We’ll trade the features that now anchor the Sunday cover each week for a monthly rotation of topics: Books, in our partnership with the Kitsap Regional Library; Well Being, on topics like nutrition, preventive care and medical trends; Getaways, on places and events around the Sound or the state worth seeing; and Photography, to showcase images from Sun photographers or readers.

Each Sunday, the cover story will be dedicated to one locally produced “theme,” with accompanying pieces like book reviews, columns from local doctors or professionals, and other interesting tidbits. Inside each Sunday you’ll find an expanded community planner for the coming week, more community “celebration” announcements, and of course the standards Dear Abby, television listings and puzzles.
Placing more of a priority on the Sunday Life section does come at a cost. We’re dropping the daily features pages and some of the columnists associated with them. A few will remain, though on a less frequent basis, including our columnists writing about food (Ann Vogel), gardening (Ann Lovejoy, Chris Smith and Peg Tillery) and life in general (Jill Pertler).

The Religion page, with Sally Santana’s every-other-week column, will remain on Saturday. The Kitsap Time Capsule, usually seen here Sundays, will now run in the news section along with our Remember When column.

Look for the new section Oct. 7, and let me know what you think.

Note: This column runs in the C section of the Sunday, Sept. 30 edition.


Baurick heads to Boulder

August 7th, 2012 by David Nelson

This is a column I wrote for last Friday’s Bainbridge Islander, a weekly newspaper also published by the Sun. Change the references to “Islander” to “Kitsap Sun,” and it’ll make sense to the broad audience. Essentially, I’m explaining a really great opportunity for one of our reporters and a feather in the cap for the paper, and how we’ll adjust over the next nine months.
—David

Beginning next week you’ll stop seeing a familiar name in the Islander.

I’m not hinting at another city hall departure, but rather one from our own office: Bainbridge Island staff reporter Tristan Baurick is temporarily leaving the Kitsap Sun and Bainbridge Islander.

It’s nothing against us, or this community. Tristan’s opted to take advantage of an experience that any journalist would jump at. He’ll spend the next nine months in Boulder, Colo., studying at the University of Colorado as a Ted E. Scripps Fellow in Environmental Journalism. He leaves with the paper’s blessing and our encouragement, and leaves us with a hint of pride due to the company he’s in: only four others were selected for the 2012-13 class, and they writers from the Los Angeles Times, the Associated Press New Delhi bureau, Spokane’s Spokesman-Review and a freelance photojournalist who’s been published in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and others. Pretty heady bunch.

Tristan’s been primarily a city government reporter for us, of course, though he’s long had an interest in the environment as well. In fact, when he interviewed for his staff job he told me that was a career aspiration, and he’s done some good work on environmental issues that affect the island over the years. During his time in Boulder Tristan won’t be writing for any publication, but he’ll have a well-deserved opportunity to study science and writing in a university setting, take field trips with other fellows, think about issues without the daily pressure of a deadline, and simply recharge his batteries for journalism.

At the Sun we’re lucky to have had reporter Chris Dunagan over the years writing about environmental issues that include land use, salmon restoration, Puget Sound and Hood Canal  (Dunagan’s even written a book on that waterway). This doesn’t mean Tristan will return to Kitsap County to supplant Dunagan. He plans to return to cover the island’s news, giving the Kitsap Sun and Islander even more expertise on an issue that is of great importance in our region and our world.

In the meantime, you can still expect consistent coverage of the island and a byline that you’ve seen periodically (including in this edition) will become more frequent. That’s because Tad Sooter, a North Kitsap resident who’s written for us on a freelance basis for the past year and is an experienced writer and photographer from his time with weekly newspapers around here, will be contributing on a more permanent basis. Tad’s been writing about personalities and issues on the island for the past few months, and will dive into the new, broader assignment next week. Contact him at tad.sooter@gmail.com with story ideas or tips.

I’m eager to watch the Islander’s continued growth with contributions from Tad and the other Kitsap Sun reporters who cover island news, arts and sports, as we keep bringing you a quality weekly newspaper. I’m also excited for the opportunity Tristan has coming up — maybe a little jealous, in truth — and we all wish him well as he enters a new chapter in his professional life. Please join me in doing so.


Election season surfaces again

July 13th, 2012 by David Nelson

My father was in town last weekend helping his mother clean out years of stockpiled archives, paperwork, mail and other detritus. My grandmother has some pack-rat tendencies that I’d like to think are not genetic, though looking across my desk this evening makes me wonder.

One “find” was a souvenir bookmark which, before sending it to the shredder, my dad wanted to milk a laugh out of. It’s a beige piece of stock paper with clip art with a Gore Vidal quote below: “Half the American people never read a newspaper. Half never voted for president. One hopes it’s the same half.”

This particular bookmark was printed in 1998 for an 80th birthday and the writer Vidal made the statement, or at least a version of it, in a 1992 book. Neither, it can safely be assumed, had any idea of the online world that would arrive to make the quote even more biting. The number of Americans who read a newspaper has declined considerably since, the amount of political gossip passed on as news has increased, and mudslinging advertising and sound-bite tit-for-tat in the media seem to elbow out the info that actually helps you make an informed choice.

Vidal, who can fairly be called pessimist where modern politics are concerned, would ratchet down his percentages if he made the same quote today.

But I’m not writing to wring my hands over politics or the media. Our newspaper is still in the business of helping you learn more about local elections, and that’s what we’re going to set a table full of over the coming weeks. We’ve got a primary a month away, after all.

The idea is to give you information about local candidates and races as close as possible to the time when ballots are mailed out. So beginning Wednesday we’ll be running profiles of candidates in all local races that will be contested Aug. 7, including legislative races, judicial races, Congressional races, the county commissioner seat up for grabs and the Bremerton levy measure on the ballot. We’ll also publish the candidates in their own words — or at least as many words that fit — drawing from our Ask the Candidates election guide, which you can find at elections.kitsapsun.com.

Speaking of the online election guide, I’d invite you to visit the site. We’ve redesigned the look for better navigation, asked all candidates to fill out biographical information and answer questions specific to their races, and we’re posting video interviews our editorial board has done. We’ll keep those going through the fall, so stay tuned for more. I introduce each editorial meeting by telling the candidates that our videos are intended as a further resources for voters to watch, so don’t let me be a liar.

Those video interviews are essentially an inside look at our editorial board’s endorsement process, though we do any deliberations off camera. The other point I make before each interview is my hope that by offering you a look at our conversation with candidates, our board of four Sun staff members and five community members is more transparent than editorial boards have historically been. You may disagree with our endorsements — which will begin publishing on Sunday, July 22 — but now you can see the same conversation our board in part based the decision upon.

The quote I began with is about the presidential election, but I’ve always thought that the municipal court judge or city councilman can influence your life just as much as the White House. So even those who hold your nose when politics comes up should get engaged on that level. And with apologies to Mr. Vidal, I’ll conclude with a quote of his that wasn’t related necessarily to elections, but in this context should be: “You hear all this whining going on, ‘Where are our great writers?’ The thing I might feel doleful about is: Where are the readers?”

Hopefully, these days they’re holding a Kitsap Sun, and a ballot.


A simple view of the daily ritual

June 8th, 2012 by David Nelson

I spoke to a media class at Olympic College two weeks ago and shared my opinion that paying for online news would be our industry’s main conversation through 2012. Big papers like the New York Times, L.A. Times, Chicago Tribune and others have announced or implemented paywalls, and companies with community and regional papers, like Gannett, have indicated they will do the same. And the pudits on journo blogs couldn’t stop commenting.

Then the future plan for the New Orleans Times-Picayune leaked, and all everyone in the industry has talked about is whether others will follow suit and abandon the model of publishing a printed paper every day. The T-P was followed by a few other Southern metros in its chain, and we have a new “issue of the year” in the news media.

I have no announcement as far as our paper and website goes on either of these topics. In general, my opinion is mixed on paywalls (though two papers in our company, E.W. Scripps, have them now in one form or another) but firm that cutting publication days away from a daily newspaper right now hurts a community and an organization’s reputation.

Images of daily print newspaper readers best explain the value of the day's news.

I could go on about my belief in a daily printed newspaper (particularly in New Orleans, where I visited for the first time three months ago), and formulating some of those thoughts was what kept me from posting on the Times-Picayune earlier*. But now I simply want to share this pictorial from a nonprofit online news startup in the Crescent City (which will be an interesting study itself when T-P does make this change, incidentally). It’s a more elegant answer to the question “Why print a newspaper?” than me going on and on about ink smudges on my fingertips.

—David

———

*Ok, I will share one observation. When I was in New Orleans last March, I picked up a Times-Picayune every day. We’ve been very conscious over the past three years to be more locally oriented than ever, as that is the one niche we can fulfill for our readers in a world full of media choices. It’s local news only on A1, a trimmed-down Nation and World report, all that. I was tickled to see that the T-P, even in a metropolitan area, essentially shared our strategy. Its front page was all city stuff, and even fit the territorial stereotype I had of that area: the Saints led A1 every day I was down there, and one day a review of Po’ Boys started out front as well.

**Ok, one more observation on NOLA: An editor I used to work for liked to play the parlor game, “What’s the best newspaper name?” It’s kind of a fun newsroom conversation that we waste time with; I’ve always liked newspapers called “Bee” for some inexplicable reason. But the beautiful and antiquated word “Picayune” on a masthead could never be topped. Try to use it in a sentence without thinking about the New Orleans newspaper; you can’t.


Steve Gardner nails it (according to the policy nerds)

April 12th, 2012 by David Nelson

Though the comments following this story left me wondering if those readers understood (or even read) what reporter Steve Gardner put together to explain the ongoing election saga to replace Jay Inslee, a public policy group in Minnesota did acknowledge his good work this week.

Steve wasn’t first to this week’s explanation of how the cost of the 1st District’s special election is calculated through the reimbursement to King, Kitsap and Snohomish counties because of some legal wording. (On Monday Peter Callahan of the News Tribune had it here, and Jim Brunner of the Seattle Times here.) But, according to The Election Academy at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, Gardner went all tortoise on their hare and explained the story the best. They noted his work — which the Secretary of State’s office circulated by email around the state on Wednesday — as an example of a journalist being “part of the election profession.”

That’s a nice compliment given the time Steve and others in here spend each year covering campaigns through candidate profiles, examining the issues, conducting editorial board interviews with office hopefuls and building other online resources for voters and readers — which will be particularly time-consuming this year, given the number and importance of races.

And speaking of the confluence of elections and Steve Gardner, it’s a good time to share that he’s being honored in a second way this month for some political prowess. Steve was recently selected to participate in a Washington, D.C. conference put on by the Sunlight Foundation, which will focus on covering Super PACs in the election process. He’ll join 30 others, including names from the L.A. Times, Crain’s Chicago Business, The Orlando Sentinel, Moyers & Company, and USA Today, for a two-day symposium on understanding and reporting on the special interest groups known as political action committees.

But back to my point, which was, “Nice work, Steve.” We don’t stop and take stock of how professional reporting affects the election process often enough, particularly the internicene mechanics that consume an auditor but may bore (or anger, if explained incorrectly) the average voter. We just did that, and very well. Below is the email I sent out to the Sun newsroom:

All –

Gardner gets a pat on the back from an organization at the University of Minnesota that follows election news: http://blog.lib.umn.edu/cspg/electionacademy/2012/04/journalism_ftw_reporter_nails.php

Here’s my favorite part: “…at least one reporter – The Kitsap Sun’s Steve Gardner – dug into the law (and the numbers) and filed a story that is staggeringly detailed and incredibly valuable in understanding the issues at hand.”

That’s a pretty nice compliment about Steve’s work in explaining a complicated story to our readers, and a good reminder of how important it is that we keep explaining wonky (and sometimes dry) processes in these days of sound-bite election coverage. As I’m writing this Steve’s explaining it to Jim Campbell again, just to illustrate how difficult it can be to understand all of this. So that tells you something about the time Steve has invested into this story. Well done.


Thursday’s retro edition of the Sun

January 12th, 2012 by David Nelson

Our print readers received an interesting looking newspaper this morning — or will receive one sometime today — due to some production problems overnight that delayed printing.

I’ll have a column in the Friday edition explaining as much as is understandable about what happened, but essentially a number of backend computer files required to put the paper out became corrupted sometime Wednesday, and the fix took hours. The shortened schedule for printing forced us to do the unexpected — print an all black-and-white edition to save time in producing the plates that run on the press for color pages. The press normally starts at 12:15 a.m. daily; this morning’s run began around 7 a.m., meaning that as I write this we still have papers being dropped off. Between the late delivery and black and white cover, some readers may feel a hint of nostalgia for the old afternoon edition that didn’t have color either.

Jokes aside, I want to apologize for readers for the delay. Also, the effort of more than 12 Sun employees in pre-press, the press room, IT, and the mailroom is worth noting. Those dozen people, not including carriers who were sent home around 2 a.m. and asked to return at dawn, spent all night diagnosing the problem and working with an outside company’s tech support to get things fixed. It’s a cliché that the newspaper is a “daily miracle,” but nights like last night give you an idea of the effort and a little magic behind getting this thing to 20,000 doorsteps day after day.

Like I said, I’ll try to have more information later, both here and for print readers. If you’re still waiting for your paper, please have patience. But also understand things are a little scrambled with delivery schedules, so do call us later today (360.377.3711) if you haven’t received your paper.

And be looking for a full-color Sun on Friday.


Steagall gets his due

December 31st, 2011 by David Nelson

I can’t think of a better compliment to lead this post with than what Facebook reader Heather Cooper wrote on our page Friday: “Larry Steagall is boss.”

Indeed, Heather.

Most readers already knew this from looking at the photographer’s work over the past two decades. Larry’s often honored with awards for his shots — he and Meegan M. Reid dominated the National Press Photographer’s Association monthly contests this year — but he’s also a little shy and fairly humble about it.

The Thursday before Christmas we had a little Christmas potluck in the newsroom, and used the event as a ruse to get the notoriously shy photographer some attention. Larry had been awarded the best photo of 2011 by the International Association of Fire Fighters, for a shot from a 2010 fire in Manette (in my neighborhood, no less, which means I actually watched him work that night). And naturally, the guys down at Bremerton Fire knew he wouldn’t show up if they scheduled some kind of ceremony.

Late-night fires are Larry’s specialty (the guy sleeps next to a scanner), and the Sun’s coverage of fires is unrivaled by any news agency that doesn’t have a helicopter, as far as I’m concerned. So we found a way to celebrate the fact that one of his photos from that night is now on the cover of a 2012 IAFF calendar, and the $500 check that comes with the honor. Surprise!

Best of all, Larry finally had to accept an award in front of his peers and get cheered. And here I am letting you in on it, so everyone knows.

Below is a video that reporter Amy Phan took during our little presentation. Larry even cuts the bashful act a bit. Congrats Larry!


In defense of anonymous

November 16th, 2011 by David Nelson

The weekly newspapers in Kitsap County owned by Sound Publishing will soon require readers to log-in with a Facebook account if they’d like to comment on a story.

I wasn’t planning to write anything about the change, because it’s one of many experiments being tried in the industry and not something we’re pursuing. I’ve written about other attempts to change commenting before, and stated my feeling that tech solutions alone aren’t the answer to the downside of online commentary on news sites. I disagree that eliminating anonymous comments will alone somehow “mature” the discussion on newspaper websites, and, despite the occasional heartburn we experience here in monitoring comment threads, I believe there is good reason to allow pseudonyms in online forums and we’ve committed to that. It’s also not my cup of tea to hand a website’s registration process over to Facebook, or to force my readers to sign up for a site they may have no interest in.

That said, after seeing our newspaper’s “credibility” called into question (yes, it’s our newspaper Lary Coppola is talking about if you scroll down on the comments), I felt like responding by sharing a quick story.

A few weeks ago I wrote two emails to readers who use pseudonyms to comment on our site. They had, I felt, commandeered a comment thread by pointing in a direction I thought was off-topic from the story itself. Their part of the discussion took on a fairly weighty and serious topic in the context of a lighter feature story, which seemed inappropriate. I asked that they keep the heavier and controversial discussion to stories with a more direct relation to their argument. (Sorry, but I’m keeping it general out of respect to these readers. Some of you may still figure out who these guys are, but that’s beside my point here.)

One called me back the next morning and we talked about it, the other guy actually showed up in the office. They both get bashed from time to time on the threads because of some divergent viewpoints, but both were pleasant and reasonable and I really enjoyed both conversations.

I don’t often hear outpourings of thanks like the one that came from one of these guys. Kitsapsun.com discussion forums are incredibly important to him, and the anonymity is key. Because of his contrarian viewpoints on certain topics, this man doesn’t want to use his name. He’s not advocating hate, lying about who he is or bashing others simply to bash; he’s expressing a view that could harm his business or ostracize him from his in-laws or long-time friends. He uses our forums as an outlet, hoping to engage others in a discussion that is near to his core beliefs, or perhaps to see that others in our community think like he does. That utopian idea of enlightened back-and-forth doesn’t always happen, of course (just as it doesn’t always happen in real life), and some threads have a tendency to devolve and allow one or two critics to harp on this guy. But he remained optimistic about the free, open forum that has coalesced into a community on kitsapsun.com, and his optimism is something I tend to share.

I think the anonymity offered on our comment boards gives critics of it a faulty perch on which they assume the worst of people: that is, the argument those who won’t use their “real name” are jaded cretins wallowing in hate and aggression. There’s probably some like that, sure, and there’s others who won’t engage cooperatively or listen to reason. The two men I spoke with have experienced the short end of that stick again and again. They’ve learned, like I have all the times the Sun gets beat up on those forums, that in the online world you need both thick skin and a decent sense of humor.

So I’ll stand by the practice of allowing pseudonyms as part of the community that’s developed on our site. That sort of “free speech” doesn’t mean we allow all speech, as we’ve repeated many times when pointing users toward our comment guidelines. But I’ll take the responsibility that comes with hosting an open forum, where contrarian views can be held and all opinions can be offered, because I believe that’s part of how we communicate online. Pseudonyms let readers remain anonymous, but they also allow commentors to build credibility through being consistent in opinions or reasonable in debates. And I think most of us are smart enough to sort out which of those we trust.

One last point, to briefly clear up another fallacy that was raised on that Port Orchard Independent piece I linked to above. We don’t keep anonymous comments because it somehow benefits us monetarily. (In fact, as far as staff time on moderation is concerned, we offer them at a loss.)

It’s true that part of online advertising is based on page views, but looking at our statistics does not bear out that the majority of our page views come from stories with high comment traffic. We get more traffic from obituaries than most stories with multiple comments. Even on opinion pieces that draw more than 100 comments over a period of days, those rarely compete with our most viewed stories of the day, and they tend to draw the same small group of repeat readers rather than a broad range of unique visitors, which advertisers may also find more attractive. There’s no moral choice of sacrificing ethics in a chase for page views.

My guess is there will be some discussion beneath this post, so I’ll try to answer any more questions there. Thanks for reading.

—David


We are newspaper reporters

November 11th, 2011 by David Nelson

Last Saturday we produced a special “saturation” newspaper, so those of you non-print subscribers in Port Orchard, Bremerton, Silverdale and Poulsbo may have received a free Sun on your doorstep. The idea was to introduce, or re-introduce, the Kitsap Sun to folks we may have lost touch with. Remind ‘em newspapers are still alive, and maybe sign a few people up for subscriptions*.

Part of the strategy was a marketing piece that featured photos and short descriptions of most of the reporters and photographers in the newsroom. It was nicely done and hopefully introduced our staff to potential readers, but the idea to spotlight a newspaper’s headliners or personalities really isn’t “new” (though it had been awhile since the Sun’s run that kind of “get to know us” effort).

What is kind of new is the little project on Tumblr I noticed yesterday, which is generating some buzz in journalism circles (at least circles on Twitter), called We Are Journalists. It’s along the same lines as our campaign to personalize reporters, in a way I haven’t seen before. From what I understand it’s patterned on the “We are the 99 percent” slogan going on with the Occupy movement, as a way of collectively standing up to ask for a little respect for the work reporters do in the face of some increasingly tough odds. So journalists write a short bio and post a photo of themselves, and the world can see that we are real people, who, for one reason or another, love and care about the work we do.

The submissions seem mainly to come from young reporters so far, but we’ve all been there so it’s interesting to read in a sentimental way. Some of the war stories or stereotypes sound a little schmaltzy or cliche, but deep down I like those in the way most people are suckers for romantic comedies. And then there’s the inside jokes that only journalists can come up with, and probably that don’t make anyone else laugh. Like: “I feel like I’m sinning if I don’t read at least 3/4 of the newspaper, and I often find myself reading yesterday’s news to cure my guilt.”

I loved that one.

Here’s mine (which should probably be edited if I’m really going to submit it):

I go home every day having learned something new. My friends ask me what’s going on around town because they know I’ll know. When I meet people, we’re able to find some connection because the newspaper’s reported on them, their neighborhood, their job or something they’ve been involved with. I’m neither a Democrat or a Republican, and won’t ever be because I’m a journalist instead. I get to cringe when certain area codes are on my caller ID since I know I’m about to be unfairly criticized because we did our job in making someone uncomfortable with a status quo belief (and then everyone in the newsroom gets to roll their eyes about it together, which is fun).

I like when a reader, who is insignificant in the reams of customer statistics that drive business decisions in the world today, takes the time to say thanks for a photo or puzzle or book review or publishing the score from her granddaughter’s volleyball game, reminding me that the Sun makes a difference in someone’s life every day.

Yesterday I was at the Manette Bridge opening, tweeting and sending photos back to the newsroom and saying hi to my neighbors, and a few people asked how I got out of work on a sunny day to hang around at the bridge. It was my work.

I am the editor of a local newspaper.

*It kind-of worked.


When we publicize missing persons cases

November 7th, 2011 by David Nelson

We published a small item last week about a 78-year-old woman with Alzheimer’s Disease who went missing in Kingston and was found the next day. One of the comments on that story asked why we had not reported the disappearance of a young man named Miguel Scott, and one of Scott’s friends asked essentially the same question on our Facebook page.

So I’ll try to shed a little light on our thinking here.

It’s not a easy question to answer because, understandably, Scott’s friends and family are very worried for his safety, as family members and friends usually are when an adult disappears without word. A similar incident occured earlier this year when four young adults from Bainbridge Island left without letting their parents know, which we did not report on either because no formal search was organized.

When adults go missing we typically defer to the judgment of police, who commonly handle missing persons cases, to determine whether a person is in danger (such as in the 78-year-old’s case or in 2010′s disappearance of Kara Radabah, who left home without medication to treat her schizophrenia) or if the public’s involvement is necessary (such as in an Amber Alert, or Joe Pichler’s disappearance) before we get involved.

This can sound callous to someone looking for a friend or family member, but adults sometimes leave without wanting to be found. Sometimes teens run away and return quickly, or stay somewhere that may be safer than their home. To publicize every adult who makes that decision just because someone involved asks us to do so can overstep our bounds of privacy, or it can overplay a domestic situation that may not be the public’s business. Too many stories in the newspaper about runaways, I hate to say, could potentially desensitize the community to them as well.

That said, there are always exceptions and we make up our minds as more information becomes available. We do listen to family members who ask for our help in locating someone, and we keep in mind that police may not take every case as seriously as the family does.

Josh Farley has checked with the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office again this week about Miguel Scott, and though Scott is not subject to any “official” search, on Wednesday it will be two weeks since he’s been missing. Fliers are now posted around Bremerton, which no doubt some readers will have seen. Since our utmost duty is to inform our readers, who have seen those signs and maybe wondering what they’re about or how serious this case is, we will likely do that soon.

When to publish a story about a missing person is a tricky question we grapple with. Like many judgments in the newsroom, there’s no hard and fast rule or policy, and we do our best to make the right call when looking at each case independently. Like I mention above, the utmost responsibility is to our readers, and that’s something always kept in mind.

—David Nelson