Editorial: Sentinel changes to serve readers
Written by JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN Sentinel Editor   
Wednesday, 26 June 2013 09:10
We at the Sentinel-Tribune know that we face some formidable competition for readers’ attention.
In the race for readers, some may see us as the slow and steady tortoise.
We aren’t flashy and we use the words “breaking news” sparingly, unlike some TV news programming.
But what we lack in show, we make up for in substance. While newspaper ink may rub off on your hands, and may take more effort to digest than news on TV or the Internet, it also allows us to do more than scratch the surface of stories that impact our community.
We realize we provide a valuable service when we print news getting little attention in other media. For example, today we are listing names of individuals and businesses that donated to the campaign to defeat the last Bowling Green school levy. The day before, we told of frustrations mounting over the turmoil facing the Perrysburg Heights Community Association. And the day before, we told of BGSU officials trying give a facelift to a campus that some see as needing an extreme makeover.
And in an effort to be even more relevant to our readers, we are making a few changes.
Starting on Monday, the newsroom at the Sentinel-Tribune will intensify its efforts to bring you more local news from Bowling Green and areas beyond in Wood County. The challenge is daunting, with 26 municipalities and 19 townships in the county. But we are committed to covering not only the discussions that take place at public meetings, but also the stories beyond those meetings, and the people who make up our communities.
So here are a few of the changes planned to take the Sentinel-Tribune in a new direction — with more focus on local news since that is what we do best. Some are so subtle that regular readers may not even notice.
• Page 2 will take on a more “hard news” role. Obituaries will remain on the page, and efforts will be made to dedicate the valuable space on the second page to more timely local news.
• We realize that much of the news that has traditionally gone on page 2 is also important to readers. So we plan to set aside one page each week for local business news, and another for community organizations.
• Since farming continues to play a vital role in Wood County, increased efforts will be made to generate more local farm stories and to find out how local farmers feel about national agricultural issues.
• The lifestyles page will no longer focus primarily on women’s issues, since we recognize that men have lifestyles too. In an effort to bring you more local lifestyle stories, we are planning regular pages on such topics as books, health and families.
• We will continue our daily local sports coverage, arts and entertainment coverage, plus regular pages on local education, religion, seniors, youth, garden and weekly Cook’s Corners.
• We’ve also taken a fresh look at our photojournalism. We plan to continue our weekly photo pages giving readers a glimpse into local events or segments of our society. But there will be some changes. In our attempt to promote local organizations and the good work they do, we have long used photographs of groups handing out giant checks to worthy causes. Those days are done. We still want to recognize local efforts, but not at the expense of our readers’ attention. Instead of using posed shots with cardboard checks, our photographers will get pictures of how the donations will be used — such as photos of children reading donated books, or volunteers stacking shelves with donated canned goods at food pantries. And instead of staged ribbon cuttings, if at all possible, our photographers will give the readers a peek inside the new business or the expanding manufacturing plant. Earlier this month, when Southeastern Containers held a ribbon cutting at its plant expansion, our photographer was allowed in the plant — giving the readers a glimpse of an employee inspecting one of millions of plastic bottles produced there. Which one are you more likely to look at? We think it’s people in our communities volunteering or working — not the giant checks or the giant scissors cutting ribbons.
So we are asking for the readers’ help in our new direction. We are asking for understanding that the true purpose of donations isn’t self-promotion. And we’re asking that community organizations don’t wait ‘til the last minute to turn in their events if they want it published to encourage public participation. We want chicken barbecues, fundraisers, and karaoke nights to be submitted early in the week if they are to be published for free on Thursday’s community page.
At the same time that we are making changes in our printed editions, we are also making an effort to be more of a speedy, rather than slow, tortoise.
Our reporters are dedicated to “web first” coverage, which gets the most vital details of a story on our web page as soon as possible. Reporters are now also tweeting during coverage, to keep readers abreast of issues as they occur.
While we are making some changes at the Sentinel-Tribune, much will stay the same. In an era when the competition for your attention is so fierce, we recognize we have to work harder to not be viewed as obsolete. But we also realize that short sound bites and blogs by “citizen journalists” are not what we want to offer. Our challenge as journalists is to be good storytellers — using only the facts. To get through all the blaring noise and flashy lights, we have to offer you something of substance — which we remain committed to doing.
In our haste to report the news, we aren’t willing to sacrifice quality.
And while we believe in journalism’s ability to serve the public good, we don’t believe it’s our role to tell readers how to solve community problems. It’s our job to make readers aware of what is happening in their communities, give them the information needed to empower them to make changes, then report on their progress.
 

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