"Birth" is the right word. It's that vital. That's why the far more common death of a paper evokes mourning for more than lost jobs.
Starting a paper is an increasingly rare opportunity. I've done it. I know the months of preparation and anxieties, the birth pains and joy and relief of the first edition. So I rejoice at The Sunday Challenger's birth in Northern Kentucky. It's a real newspaper, not a shopper.
"The niche was very, very clear," Publisher Donald J. Then says.
· The daily Kentucky Post and the weekly Recorder papers in Boone, Kenton or Campbell don't publish a Sunday edition.
· Residents of those counties told him that they long have been unhappy with the paucity of local news in The Kentucky Enquirer.
Inaugurated July 4, the Covington-based Sunday Challenger is printed in Lexington and delivered free overnight to about 65,000 homes, slightly more households than purchase the Sunday Kentucky Enquirer. The Challenger also is available from red curbside boxes, restaurants and other sites.
Developer Bill Butler is the primary backer. He wants a voice for Northern Kentucky. Then has his money in it, too, insisting that The Sunday Challenger is a "legit news publication," not a vehicle for extending Butler's influence.
"It's not for personal gain above and beyond being a successful newspaper," Then says.
He wouldn't talk about "profitability" -- that is, when the paper is expected to quit losing money.
Would he and Butler buy the ailing Kentucky Post from Scripps-Howard when the Post/Enquirer joint operating agreement expires on Dec. 31, 2007?
"I can't answer yes," he says. "I can't answer no."
Editor Tom Mitsoff says The Challenger's 10 full-time editorial employees and handful of freelancers are sufficient for the initial 32 pages. Major enterprise stories follow an approach favored by Then: Describe a significant problem and offer possible solutions. Initial issues explored lead exposure/poisoning in older homes, functional illiteracy in Northern Kentucky, hopes for a new I-75 bridge over the Ohio River and the need/plans to upgrade Covington housing.
Few stories reach beyond the three target counties.
Most are upbeat features, including sports. It's very much a community paper in that sense.
"We're getting it together as we go," Mitsoff says, and The Challenger can't avoid following some daily stories. But he says his reporters look for unexplored or underdeveloped angles that will make the paper "the most trusted media source" in Northern Kentucky.
"If we do this right, they can't beat us," Mitsoff says.
The Sunday Challenger is the first local Sunday paper in decades other than The Enquirer. Coincidental with the challenger's startup, The Enquirer created the position of general manager for The Kentucky Enquirer.
Dennis Hetzel, former editor and publisher of the York, Pa., Daily Record, took the job and said he "would feel challenged whether they (Sunday Challenger) were there or not. ... I don't think I feel more motivated because they are there."
He said The Kentucky Enquirer does a good job but his challenge is to do better. How that's to be accomplished was something he wouldn't discuss.
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It's rare, but personal attacks can be slipped into a legit news story. WLWT-TV and reporter Raegan Butler were recent victims when Channel 5's Web site carried racial and sexual slurs as well as a professional swipe at Butler in a homicide story.
The offending phrases reached other Web sites before WLWT killed the story, accepted responsibility and apologized.
News Director Brennan Donnellan said WLWT provides the news content, while newsroom partner Internet Broadcasting Systems (IBS) operates the site. IBS fired the unnamed employee blamed for the slurs.
Nancy Cassutt, IBS vice president/content, said, "Our policies and procedures were not followed." She wouldn't say how IBS "policies and procedures" were circumvented or could prevent a recurrence.
The Associated Press carried the homicide story but not the slurs, despite claims to the contrary by some bloggers, according to John Nolan, head of the AP office in Cincinnati.
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If reporters skip stenographic reporting of every idiotic or redundant campaign utterance, readers, viewers and listeners should be willing to skip ritualistic accusations of partisan bias when they do. If this is a novel idea, here's some blather to skip:
· A candidate is so rich that he's "out of touch" with ordinary Americans. John Kerry and George W. Bush were born to money and never strayed. John Edwards and Dick Cheney had to buy their own silver. None needs to import prescription drugs from Canada.
· A candidate is "in thrall to special interests." They all are. Who else would donate and raise money, promote endorsements and work for them? Mom? The family thrall?
· Someone has "undue influence." That means a candidate is in thrall to Angela Lansbury, neo-cons, oil companies, unions, Masons, Jesuits, Saudis, Evangelical Christians, Jews, Muslims, public school teachers, the NRA, etc. If true, prove it.
· A candidate is "weak" or "strong" on national defense. Every candidate is both, depending on the listener.
· Congress cut older Americans' prescription costs. Ask how the plan prevents drug companies from jacking up prices before discounting them.
· The other party's senators are "blocking" confirmation of presidential judicial nominees. Both parties use these lifetime appointments to extend their influence, and most judicial nominees are confirmed with minimal fuss.
· Republicans "defend the sanctity of marriage" so that only heterosexuals or gays and lesbians faking it can enjoy marriages to the opposite sex and divorce.
· Democrats scuttled GOP efforts to defend traditional marriage. Proves they are in thrall to gays, lesbians, transsexuals and their parents and friends.
· "Values." It generally suffices when top elected and appointed officials don't screw the help, steal on the job or assert domestic authority that stinks of the divine right of kings.
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Grumpy Curmudgeon notes:
· Another young, pretty (and pregnant) white woman has disappeared. Again it's national news. Anyone else missing?
· If no news was expected from Democrats' convention, why did so many news media attend? The same reason reporters always accompany a president?
Ben L. Kaufman teaches journalism ethics at Northern Kentucky University. He is a retired reporter for The Cincinnati Enquirer.