News Columns & Blogs

The news keeps coming, and journalists keep digging

No one has escaped the beating this economy has been packing for months now. Our newspaper is no exception, as we reported last week. Our owner, The McClatchy Co., has asked for more belt-tightening as 2009 continues to look like another tough year for almost every industry.

The newspaper business has to adapt to these financial challenges, just like any business. But that’s where quality journalism must find a way to be immune: We need to discover and verify truths, tell your stories, expose wrongs, seek help for the needy, connect the community.

Journalists spend almost every minute of their working hours combing through endless information to first educate themselves, then use that knowledge to educate, entertain, challenge and inform others.

At most newspapers, including the Herald, that mission continues to drive us seven days a week. And with our online editions, that stretches our reach around the clock.

There may not be as many of us to accomplish all this, but the need hasn’t diminished. I firmly — no, passionately — believe that the world needs the Fourth Estate now more than ever before. Are we doing enough? Maybe not. But when we stop to assess what we are doing at the Herald, it’s invigorating.

Each month, the Herald’s directors compile a report highlighting our performance for that period. For the newsroom’s contributions, we offer summaries of top stories, new products or changing features. Here’s a glimpse at some of the things we tackled just in January, in addition to the myriad daily assignments (including almost 700 staff stories, 400 photos, videos and audio clips) for both in-print and online — some serious, some quirky, some downright fun:

n Reporter Jessica Klipa is investigating how tainted drywall imported from China during the housing boom of a few years ago has been showing up in many communities in Florida, with the largest concentration of homes in Manatee County. Starting with reluctant few sources, Klipa is reporting on the magnitude of the problem — from health concerns to corroded air conditioning systems and electrical wiring.

n For the historic inauguration of Barack Obama, the newsroom produced a handsome eight-page special section that published on Inauguration Day, with voices of Manatee County residents surrounded by national historic perspective.

n We offered Chapter Two of “Welcome Back, Snowbirds,” a 12-page section packed with catchup news and features for our returning winter snowbirds.

n Who knew that the sweet aroma of grape bubble gum could be so repulsive, at least to turkey vultures? Reporter Sara Kennedy was all over a machine that dispenses the smell at a local middle school, proving effective in shooing the big birds away. The story was the top online story for days, with thousands of page views.

n We covered all things Manatee County Fair, from the winter chill it always brings to the grand steer sale. We also published keepsake pages of all the Blue Ribbon winners, and packaged everything online (www.bradenton.com/750). That online section has attracted more than 30,000 viewers.

n The Herald held its annual Fishing College and Outdoor Expo, and outdoors writer Nick Walter unveiled the inaugural Bradenton Herald Outdoors Person of the Year — and the first honoree is fishing guide Carol Kimball, who has done amazing work with countless children.

n In one day, Sarasota hedge fund manager Arthur Nadel turned himself in to federal authorities; State Farm Insurance announced it was dropping Florida property insurance holders; Lakewood Ranch won the approval of a $110 million sports training academy; Gevity cut 10 percent of its staff; and Tara Bridge plans were put on hold — all local breaking news.

n And there was the Super Bowl. Bradenton’s sports staff turned it into a local extravaganza, with tons of coverage of local fans, local players with the Arizona Cardinals and Pittsburgh Steelers, visiting stars and, of course, Game Day in Tampa Bay. We launched a podcast on Bradenton.com to accompany all the video and audio clips. All this coverage, led by reporters Roger Mooney, Ryan Boyd and John Lembo, meant many hours of “extra work.” But just listen to how these writers perceived the opportunity:

Ryan Boyd: “Last week was a blast. First of all, I had a chance to write about one of the best Super Bowls ever. . . . The opportunity to be amongst many of the best journalists in the business will be cherished forever. It clearly was the best week of my career.”

John Lembo: “An experience I will never forget. . . . Covering the Super Bowl was a ton of work, but a ton of fun. I have my concerns about the future of the business, and most importantly, my place in it. But whatever happens, I can always say I got to cover a Super Bowl.”

And when I sent Roger Mooney a note on a job well done, adding that the news never lets up, he replied:

“Nope.

“And it wouldn’t be any fun if it did.”

Joan Krauter, executive editor, writes “Letter from the Editor” every other Sunday. She can be reached at 941-748-0411, ext. 2000.

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