Irony. Plagiarism. Silence.
I&8217;m one of those people who love to learn from others, from people who have been around the block a few times.
So, imagine my eagerness to meet Ms. Ursula Heiztelberg when I read her delightful letter to the editor in The Democrat Reporter, a once grand weekly in Linden.
Ms. Heiztelberg took time late last month to compare and contrast one edition of The Demopolis Times to one edition of The Democrat Reporter. Her findings she shared with Goodloe Sutton&8217;s readers.
But more than the statistics she concocted during her comparison was the insightful commentary she added to it.
Now, before you rush out to the local newsstand and snatch up the May 3, 2007, edition of The Democrat Reporter, let me share with you what dear Ms. Heiztelberg found. Here&8217;s a few of what I am sure are well researched statistics:
– The Democrat Reporter had 28 news articles. The Demopolis Times had only five.
– The Democrat Reporter had 16 submitted news stories. The Demopolis Times had only eight, and four of those were not even local!
– The Democrat Reporter had nine columns, all local. The Demopolis Times had three columns. One was local, but the other two were staff columns, and she says our staff is not local.
– The Democrat Reporter had 22 pages, and The Demopolis Times had only 12 pages.
As I stated, Ms. Heiztelberg provided her dear readers with commentary on the matter, which I found especially insightful. I would be remiss if I did not share some of her pearls of wisdom with you.
– One of our reporters likes to repeat his sentences.
– She has found misspelled words in our newspaper.
– She&8217;s seen a picture of me, and she has seen me around town a few times, and she believes me to be too young to be a publisher.
– In comparing the two publications, she said the winner is clear. (You&8217;ll see how clear in just a minute.)
I tell you, I am a better newspaperman for Ms. Heiztelberg&8217;s letter. Yes sir, she has opened my eyes. In fact, she inspired me. She inspired me to do my own comparison, and that&8217;s just what I did.
But you see, I was not satisfied to see how much better and more thorough The Democrat Reporter was than The Demopolis Times for just one issue. No way. I wanted to see how we stacked up over the entire month of April.
Now, I knew April was a transition month for us. We named Brandon Glover as our new sports editor. With James Gilmore retiring early in the month, we were down a reporter in the newsroom. That meant we had only three people generating stories compared to four at The Democrat Reporter.
So, I told myself I would take that into consideration after I did my comparison and would not beat myself up too bad over the results.
What I did was get all four editions of The Democrat Reporter from April (which, by the way, I got confused doing because the April 26 edition had April 20 on the front.). Then, I gathered all 20 editions of The Demopolis Times from April.
Next, I went through and counted all staff-generated articles. I didn&8217;t count the turn-in copy, which I notice they generally run about a week after we do, so it made it easy for me to track. Nor did I count our five special sections to their none.
Here&8217;s what I found:
4The Demopolis Times published 57 staff-generated news stories of local interest, compared to 21 in The Democrat Reporter.
4The Demopolis Times published 56 staff-generated sports stories of local interest, compared to 16 in The Democrat Reporter.
4The Demopolis Times published six staff-generated feature stories of local interest, compared to three in The Democrat Reporter.
4The Demopolis Times published 17 staff-generated editorials of local interest, compared to nine in The Democrat Reporter.
4The Demopolis Times published six staff-generated columns of local interest, compared to a big fat zero (Sorry, I got excited. I think we might have won one…) in The Democrat Reporter.
4The Demopolis Times published 192 pages of local news, sports, features and commentary, as compared to only 88 in The Democrat Reporter.
Now, I&8217;m not sure what Ms. Heiztelberg means by one of our reporters repeating his sentences, but I&8217;ll give her that we sometimes have spelling errors and typos. Unfortunately, we&8217;re only human.
Of course, Ms Heiztelberg knows all this. She said she has been around or working in newspapers for 60 years. Then again, that makes me wonder why then she questions such a common policy as being able to edit letters to the editor for grammar and accuracy.
As for me being too young, who cares. I&8217;ve been around the block a few times in just 30 years, but I plan to go around a lot more before it&8217;s over. Along the way, I hope I learn a few new tricks of the trade. Once you stop learning, you must have stopped living.
But two things I&8217;ve learned in my short, wee little life are these two valuable lessons:
– Don&8217;t plagiarize, and
– Irony is a … well, you know.
Perhaps Ms. Heiztelberg needs to teach the first lesson to the folks at her favorite newspaper.
You see, after someone showed me her letter, I turned to the front page. As I started reading their coverage of the school shooting scare at Demopolis High School from more than a week ago, I started scratching my head.
The words I was reading sounded so familiar. The contacts, they were the same as another story I had read. A few phrases turned just as if I had penned them myself.
Then it dawned on me, it sounded an awful lot like my story published on April 27, six days before the one I was reading. I picked up the phone and called the three officials quoted in their story, and all three told me the same thing: No one from The Democrat Reporter called them about the school shooting story.
But there their names were, in black and white, with my quotes. Ironic, isn&8217;t it.
Perhaps Ms. Heiztelberg, Mr. Sutton and myself can all sit down over lunch one day and discuss it. I&8217;ll even ring up Silence Dogood and see if she would like to come.
Sam R. Hall is editor and publisher of The Demopolis Times. He never attended journalism school like Ms. Heiztelberg claims, but instead learned his craft as she said she learned hers: working up through the ranks. He can be reached by e-mail to email@example.com.
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