Life, Zest and Personality

Convener: Pamela Dugan, Birmingham News

Note Taker:  Bryan Cantley


  • Bryan Cantley, Canadian Newspaper Assn
  • Sarah Adantsch, student
  • Meghan Keating,  student
  • Terry Bertling, San Antonio
  • Jackie Van Athen, Spokane
  • Tom Eblen,Lexington, KY
  • Bill Felber, Manhattan,  Kansas
  • Erica Gordon, student
  • Barbara Janesh, Green Bay

Points raised

* Regular life stories that help people understand how to cope, how to cope.

* World events that are brought to a local level

* Stories that make people feel connected

* Images, description, dialogue – elements that bring a more youthful tone to a newspaper.

* Readability- writing in a way that makes people want to read; storytelling, drama, personal stories.

* Strong leads –  build on them and maintain interest throughout

* Visual –  large, dramatic, well composed pictures and art. Get photographers to contribute to the effect of the story.

* Editors are too busy assigning crappy photos; photographers who read stories before a shoot are a  blessing.

* Experiment with stories and content. Be different, every day; e.g., during infestation of lady bugs, Lexington used sketches of them everywhere in the paper (including as bullets in certain stories) and then asked readers to count them. Prizes were awarded. Reaction was more than expected.

* Interesting and surprising stories – not just one but several in an edition, and not the usual “news of the weird” type of syndicated stories. It requires reporters to get out of the office and/or all newspaper employees, not just the news staff, to contribute.

* Health issues – we are all affected by daily lifestyle matters, whether young or old.

* Your best columnists and reporters – deploy them in creative ways and market the paper around them.

* A strong marketing effort can do a lot to bring out a newspaper’s personality. Marketing and editorial working together can make a difference without compromising the integrity of the editorial product.

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Ordinary People

Convener: Kathy Rutledge

Note taker: Reed Eckhardt

The group

  • D. Reed Eckhardt, Cheyenne
  • Pamela Dugan, Birmingham
  • Walter Johns, Houston
  • Will Pleas, Marquette
  • Suki Dardarian, Seattle
  • Doug Floyd, Spokane
  • Barbara Janesh, Green Bay
  • Kathleen Rutledge, Lincoln


Ideas for getting more ordinary people into the newspaper and reading the newspaper

Publish news stories about ordinary people when it feels right and when you’ve found a good story, rather than on a schedule that breeds obligation rather than inspiration.  At Seattle, they call it “that new thing.”

Some TV stations give ordinary people videocams and ask them to submit “community reports” on certain events.  Perhaps there’s a way for newspapers to ask ordinary people to report on events they’re witness to — via email, called-in reports?

Ask ordinary people to write mini reviews of movies, concerts, etc., to supplement or replace professional reviews. Publish their views with their mugs.

Get reporters out of the newsroom talking to ordinary people.

For those papers with the luxury of having whole teams devoted to general assignment, name a GA team devoted to getting ordinary people into the paper.  Give them the equipment to file from the field.

Write stories for readers, not for reporters and not for the elite.

To help readers understand, consider a “footnote box” or explainer box on basics that young people and others need to know in order to understand the story.

Resist at times the journalistic fascination for the bizarre, the obscure and the extreme and focus more on topics that concern ordinary people.

Give Page One play to good feature stories about ordinary people.

When ordinary people are thrust into the news for a time, tell readers about the rest of their lives, not just their role in the trial or the protest.

Develop relationships with unofficial community leaders who know what’s going on and can help you find ordinary people to write about.

Write obituaries about ordinary people.

Set up an immediate way for ordinary people to respond to stories without waiting to get into the letters to the editor column.    For example, run a solicitation box with a Page One story and run the quotes in a Page 2 column. If you’re not getting much response, maybe your front-page picks aren’t catching ordinary people.

Change reporter email taglines to explicitly ask readers to say what else they want to know about this story and what they thought of it.  Change the attitude of reporters about ordinary people stories by painting the vision, giving those stories good play and publicly praising them.

Conduct regular meetings with readers to discuss issues.

Tell readers how the paper works. Develop a two-way conversation.

Encourage ordinary people to give you story ideas by crediting them in a shirttail:  “This story idea came from so and so in the public.”

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Think Big, Even If Small

Convener and note taker: Steve Begnoche, Ludington Daily News, Michigan


  • Phil Elliott, The Post, Athens, Ohio
  • Diane Vickars, Beatrice Daily Sun, Nebraska
  • Erica Gordon, Mequon, Wisconsin
  • Ted Gest, Council of Presidents
  • Jim Timmermann, Holland Sentinel, Michigan
  • Bob Peck, Riverton Ranger, Wyoming


The idea of the session was to consider ways small papers can do projects that often are viewed as beyond their means. In other words, try to find ways to not let a small staff, budget or circulation prevent us from doing big stories.

As an example, one of the Ludington Daily News’ biggest successes in recent years was sending a photographer to Alaska for about a month to cover a local musher racing in the Iditarod. It cost several thousand dollars, not including salary, and placed stress on the staff that remained behind at the about 9,000 circulation, 6-day a week paper. It wasn’t in any budget when the idea first was broached by the photographer. However, we pressed on. The photographer was very enterprising and worked efficiently. He sent digital photos back from most of the checkpoints, even remote ones, via the Internet. Plus he wrote a story/feature most days and provided a diary. Readers loved the coverage. Circulation spiked. Posters, special sections and a book shortly after the photographer’s return covered the cost. If salary is excluded, we actually made some money.

Certain roadblocks to doing “big” projects were identified:

*  Feelings of “we’re so busy” on the part of staff need to be overcome. Pain is involved in the form of extra workload shared by all, especially on a small staff, but the results are worth it in reader interest and value.

*  Difficulty in finding the “right” idea. One solution Diane Vickars suggested is to have reporters submit project ideas with proposed budgets and have them “sell” the idea to top editors. . How to cover costs: Several suggested gathering special project stories, when appropriate, in special sections after completion, selling advertising in the compilation to help offset costs.

*  It is very important to use resources available in the community or from other sources. Doing so not only enrichens the paper on a daily basis, it can free time for reporters to spend in other ways. For instance, the Daily News and the Sentinel both have an outdoors enthusiast from their communities report and create their outdoors pages. Those community outdoor writers have  the passion for and knowledge about the topic lacking among the regular staff. This frees the staff to work on projects more interesting to them. The Beatrice Daily Sun had a high school student take pictures and write reviews of rock concerts the student was attending. This didn’t cost the paper any staff time and the reviews were well received by the youth in the community who thought it was cool their paper had those photos and stories.

*  Different ways to find a “big” story: The Post, the student newspaper of Ohio University, uses a grid to map out their community. Staffers are then expected to write stories on assigned portions of the grid, thus encouraging broader geographic coverage. The Beatrice Daily Sun allows a sports reporter to cover University of Nebraska football bowl games. The local flavor of the coverage of the national event is enjoyed in the community and it pumps up the reporter. One of the papers is going to follow a family as it returns to its homeland of Cambodia. Bob Peck explained his paper has been able to get more interest in special sections by changing their format to a “Hats off” approach with a luncheon for those written about after the publication is completed. The luncheon is held on the day of publication with copies brought and distributed to those attending. They do this 6-8 times a year and it has proven popular. The Ludington Daily News has done, in different ways a decade apart, “Day in the life” all-photo special sections well received by the community. The first time, we split the project into one day per season  (fall, winter, spring and summer) over the year. The last time we photographed one day a month for a year. This allowed the small staff to really look deeply into the community in photos. At the Daily News, instead of doing the typical Progress Edition, each year a unique theme is developed and a special project created that is released over a week, or in some cases two weeks.

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