Monday, April 30, 2007

Readers, bloggers support and criticize our Farm Bureau story

A good debate is ensuing on today, and can also be read in today's Tribune, over an article we published on April 22. It was about the county Farm Bureau and how some detractors think it has become too aligned with those who want to develop rural lands. Others quoted in the story, including Farm Bureau President Paul Clark, a rancher from Shandon, defend the bureau for doing a good job to represent the diverse mix of farming in our county.
Clark has an Op-Ed piece in today's paper, and it can be accessed under the Opinion-Letters link on our home page, too. There you can also post a comment. As of this morning, two viewers had commented in favor of Clark's point of view and against our article; another post was more critical of the bureau.
There are six letters to the editor in today's paper on the same topic as well, and they include some thanking us for raising the topic, and some defending the Farm Bureau and saying we had disparaged that group.
We'd be interested in hearing from you. You can post a comment to this blog or on the letter link.
_ Tad Weber

Friday, April 27, 2007

We are your source for news about SLO County wine

If you are interested in the wine scene in SLO County, The Tribune and are where you want to go for the latest information.
Every Friday, we publish the Wine Notes column in our Business section. Correspondent Janis Switzer profiles a local winery and its owner/winemakers. Today she highlights Per Bacco Cellars, which is owned and operated by Marco Rizzo (of Cafe Roma fame) and longtime vineyard manager Craig Shannon. You can also see the story on -- look under the Business heading.
In addition, our Web site has a new feature called Explore San Luis Obispo County. There is a section devoted to our wine coverage. Click on that to find past articles, as well as other special features, like wine country maps and listings of wineries throughout the county.
Another treat for wine lovers arrives in Saturday's newspaper: The official guide to the 25th annual Paso Robles Wine Fesitval. The event occurs May 19 at City Park in Paso's downtown. It is a highlight to a weekend of events. The guide has a useful map showing booth locations in the park for more than 80 wineries, and listings about them. (Disclaimer here: The Tribune is a co-sponsor of the festival).
If you have a suggestion on how we might improve our wine coverage, let us know by posting a comment.
_ Tad Weber

Thursday, April 26, 2007

We cover Cal Poly standouts and the NFL draft

I offer a shout out ahead of time to our sports writer Brian Milne and his work to cover the NFL draft this weekend, and more specifically, what happens to Cal Poly standouts Courtney Brown and Kyle Shotwell. See Brian's story today on our Sports front or on under the sports link about where those two are projected to go in the draft. Brian will track the draft all weekend and file stories once they are chosen. Inside tip from Brian: They will likely be picked on Sunday.
If you happen to miss the draft on TV Saturday, you can to to for the full listing from the first day.
_ Tad Weber

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Bank rates now added to stocks page

In case you haven’t noticed, we added bank rates and futures contracts to our Business section Tuesday through Saturday. They appear at the top of the page along with the stock market recap. We believe this accommodates both consumers and farmers in our county who had sought such useful information. In addition, we have now taken into account all reader requests for specific stock listings; they are incorporated into the 500 listings we publish; the other stocks are the most heavily traded each day.
-- Sandy Duerr

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Does putting a murderer on our front page glorify him?

I was greeted with two voice mails from readers commenting on our front page in Monday's edition. On the left side of the page was a story about Jorge Alcantar, an Arroyo Grande High student from a family of field workers. He has earned a 4.67 grade point average and will attend an Ivy League school in the fall. Next to that story was one about John Rodriguez, a 94-year-old prisoner at the California Men's Colony. Serving out a murder sentence, he is the oldest inmate in the state, which made him newsworthy. And the number of senior-citizen inmates is ever growing.

Here are highlights from the voice mails:

"I am disappointed with you guys. You are glorifying a murderer by putting that story on the front page. You could have done a guy who won a medal in Iraq."
_ Gary Avila, correctional officer at the CMC

"Whoever did the spread on the front page is a genius. It made me feel better in these days of deep sadness. Thank you for displaying that young man, Jorge Alcantar, so prominently. I'd like to meet that young man."
_ Gwen Henry, Los Osos

Both these e-mails address interesting aspects of news judgement.
First, journalists are mindful that front-page stories get high readership. That's why they are on the front page. That's why Ms. Henry saw Staff Writer Nick Wilson's story about Jorge Alcantar and Mr. Avila spied the piece about the oldest prisoner.

But journalists don't think about front-page stories as "glorifying" their subjects. In our world, we seek to report and publish. Of course, we want to cover things we think you will find interesting. But we leave it to readers to decide whether someone is worthy of acclaim. Some of you reading this may think I am being less than truthful. But the fact is, in nearly 25 years of professional journalism, I cannot recall a time when a reporter or editor argued that a story should be on the front page to "glorify" someone.

Do you agree? Post a comment to let me know.

_ Tad Weber

Monday, April 23, 2007

Readers object to use of Cho's photos on front page

“The photo will be seen as a glorification of his acts by some and may easily inspire copy cat crimes. The victims and their accomplishments would have been more appropriate.’’

“It’s really wrong that you do this in a community newspaper. You basically helped the killer do what he wanted to do.’’

“This kind of journalism makes it hard for children to determine what is ‘Hollywood’ and what is real life scary. Please show more consideration when choosing what to print. It shapes our society. Newspapers have influence! Please help to influence the community in a positive way.”

These comments were among about 30 e-mails and 20 calls that we received Thursday and Friday. All but one criticized us for publishing the three photos of Seung-Hui Cho on the front page of The Tribune Thursday.
Mostly, readers believed the publication glorified the killer involved in the Virginia Tech massacre. Many feared it would encourage copy cats and said they didn’t need to see the photos to understand that Cho was severely demented. Several said we should have focused on the victims instead. Still others called the photos inappropriate for children to see – and inappropriate for a community newspaper like The Tribune to publish. Several accused us of doing it solely to sell newspapers.
Unquestionably, the photos that we published are disturbing and extremely painful to look at. As I shared with readers Thursday, however, we made the decision to run the images because they offered new information – more than words alone -- that could shed light into the mind of the deranged young man who had taken so many lives. Essentially, they were yet another piece to the puzzle, as we all try to make some sense of this tragedy.
We had already published profiles of most of the victims, as they became known, and we had covered memorial services at Virginia Tech on the front page Wednesday.
I do not expect anyone who criticized us to change their minds. I’m writing about this now to let you know how readers overall responded to our decision – and to address some of the issues they raised.
For those who believe that the photos of Cho are inappropriate for children, I leave that to each parent or guardian to decide. I have sixth and eighth graders; both had seen the photos by the time I arrived home from work that night. But I did draw the line; when the television news reports repeated the photos later that evening, I switched channels and explained why. We cannot always shelter our children from tragedy but we can help give them the tools to deal with it.
And for those who believe their community newspaper should not publish these photos on the front page, I respectfully disagree. We do focus on local news at The Tribune but there are times when the national news is part of our local conversation, when we are affected by events outside our region. This was one of those occasions.
Looking ahead, it is not our intention to publish these photos again.
It is our intention to continue covering the story as it unfolds, to continue remembering the victims and their families and to continue looking at how our local elementary and secondary schools and higher-education institutions might institute changes as a result of the Virginia Tech massacre.
As always, I appreciate hearing from you. It helps us to have an ongoing dialogue with members of our community.

-- Sandra Duerr

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Our defense for using photo of student wounded in Va. Tech shooting

I would really like to know the thinking behind putting that picture on the front page of today's paper! We wonder why we have a violent society and disgruntled students?
_ Jeanne Eggert, San Luis Obispo

For those who have not seen Tuesday’s front page, we used a picture of a wounded student being carried away from the Virginia Tech campus – which showed some blood on his legs. It was part of our coverage of this horrific tragedy. I do not believe the image was too graphic for our readers, especially considering the fact that 33 people, mostly students, were killed in the Monday morning massacre. This photo – and similar photos – helped tell the tragic story. I also think that it’s too far a reach to suggest that by publishing such a photo we’re encouraging a violent society.
I'd love to hear from more of you on this topic.
_ Sandy Duerr

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Need a break from the disturbing news about the V Tech shooting?

There is a lot of sad, disturbing news today surrounding the horrific shootings at Virginia Tech. See the latest story on, in which professors describe the gunman as a student who had shown signs of being troubled.
While you are on our Web site, cheer yourself up with something fun. Go to our Business section and open the story entitled, "SLO ukelele maker invents toy to offend and cheer." The story by staff writer Melanie Cleveland profiles a man who makes the little instrument and one that creates another type of sound. Click onto a terrific audio/photo slide show by photographer David Middlecamp to hear the sound for yourself.
We will keep bringing you the latest on the shooting from our wire services, so keep your bookmark to handy.
_ Tad Weber

Monday, April 16, 2007

Praise for Tribune's coverage of Camp Roberts troop deployment

Robert Olson of Arroyo Grande wrote Tribune reporter Leah Etling to thank her for her article Sunday on troops at Camp Roberts preparing for deployment.
In his words, “I particularly liked what you wrote because you successfully wrapped the local and personal impacts of the deployment around the national story of war in Iraq. Few writers seem able to do this. In fact, most news writers these days cannot get past the first sentence on this subject without writing something disparaging about the men and women of our military and the war. You did just the opposite, letting the story tell itself through your words and not your opinions. … Of particular note, you took the time to quote or describe the feelings of some of these brave soldiers and the reasons why they volunteer to do what they do.”

I too thought Etling reported and wrote the story well, giving context on who the soldiers are, where they’re from – and as Olson noted, why they’ve volunteered for this difficult duty.

We continue to seek wire stories reported from Iraq that give all of us insight into developments there – both positive and negative. And let me take this opportunity to say again that we welcome hearing firsthand from local troops in Iraq.
-- Sandy Duerr

Friday, April 13, 2007

Photo unwittingly fosters stereotype

A reader questioned the use of an anonymous stock photo showing an ominous looking man that accompanied a local column Tuesday on how some parents overreact when a sex offender moves into the neighborhood. The column also offered suggestions for reducing kids’ risk of sexual abuse.
As the reader noted, the picture “appears to foster the stereotype of the sex offender as a lurking stranger, which is clearly not the point of her article … and it seems to foster a level of unfocused hysteria that Ms. Griffith clearly feels is unwarranted.”
I agree. Clearly, our page designer did not mean to suggest this. Sometimes it's difficult, if not impossible, to illustrate such a subject matter. In these situations, a wiser choice would be to publish the columns without art.
-- Sandy Duerr

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Learn about improvements to our Web site

Today I share with you a note to Tribune readers about improvements and upgrades to our Web site. This comes from Online Editor Sally Buffalo:

We encourage you to visit our Web site today and experience some new features that make easier to use.
For example, clicking on a photo attached to a story will bring up a larger version of the image, along with any additional pictures. In coming weeks, photo galleries will be better organized to show the work of our photographers.
In addition to the ability to print or e-mail a story with one click, users of AOL Instant Messenger and the social news sites Digg and can now send our stories directly with the buttons at the top of the page.
For now, will look the same, but soon our site will undergo a redesign to enhance the site’s organization, making it even easier to use.
While we have been working through the usual glitches associated with the underlying technology, we likely will discover more. Please bear with us as we address any problems during this transition.
If you encounter a broken bookmark, please go to and make a new one for the page you desire.
If you are unfamiliar with our Web site, please see what we offer online. In addition to our daily stories, the site features blogs, a host of useful information on local restaurants, wineries and hotels, as well as movie times and online extras, including slideshows with audio, videos and documents that accompany our stories.
I’d welcome hearing from you about our site or any problems you encounter with it. Contact me at or 781-7919.
_ Sally Buffalo, Online Editor

You can always share ideas for improvements here, as well. Simply post your thoughts!
_ Tad Weber

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

How our reporter told the story of a mom with Parkinson's

Today I want to offer a special version of the Editor's Blog – a Q and A with staff writer Larissa Van Beurden-Doust about her terrific story in Sunday's edition about Tracey Earl and her early-onset Parkinson’s disease. This exchange shows you how she did her eporting and writing. You can read the story on by clicking the Local link and looking under the recent local stories section.

Q: The story opens with scene of Tracey and her boys on their front porch. Why did you choose this scene as the opening, and what did you need to accomplish in that lead to carry the theme?

My goal was to make Tracey’s life seem as normal as possible, before I got into the disease aspect. Readers could get to know her as a regular woman, a stay-at-home mom who’s living an ordinary life raising her young boys. By setting the scene that way, it would make her diagnosis with an incurable disease more poignant. This wasn’t a faceless woman – it was a mom who lives like many other people in our county live. People could relate to her. I rewrote the lead many times, trying to best capture the intimate details between mother and sons. What was it that most showed her being a mother, not someone with a disease? In the end, it was what happened when I first arrived at the house, long before the interview even started. It was what happened while I sat in the corner waiting for her to finish her normal after-school routine. If I could show – not tell – readers that Tracey was a normal mom, it would carry through the story.

Q: Did it work out – was the lead what you wanted?

From the feedback I’ve gotten, the lead worked exactly as I wanted it to. People started reading about this nice woman, who lives a nice family life in the country, and then BAM – she reaches her right arm, which shakes uncontrollably. It was the impact I was going for, so I think the opener worked well.

Q: The rest of the story is well organized. How did you achieve such organization?

I started writing, sentences or paragraphs at a time, and then wrote subheads to organize them. I didn’t write linearly, but rather organized sections. I knew I wanted to get a lot of the juicy stuff into the top – ways her life has changed, what her mom and husband think. I like the first subhead to be a bit of background. Her life up to this point; including when she noticed things were wrong. I also knew I needed sections on how everyone has reacted to the disease and what life is like now. I also wanted to be sure I had a section specifically on her children, since that’s what her life revolves around. Once I had everything I’d written organized into sections, I could go back and smooth it all out. Smaller sections, even if there are many of them, are less cumbersome for readers (at least I think so), especially in longer stories.

Q: In your interviewing, you get her, her mom and her husband to be pretty honest. How did you pull such good quotes out of them?

Asking the right questions. I had met her mom while at the house, but asked to do the interview on the phone. I don’t like to interview sources in front of the story subject, because they tend to be more cautious in what they say. Tracey’s mom was more outgoing, so it wasn’t as difficult getting quotes out of her. I spent probably a half-hour to 45 minutes on the phone with her. Before calling her, I jotted down some questions so I wouldn’t forget to ask pertinent things. I also took situations Tracey had told me about, and asked her mom to give me her version of the same situation. That helped paint a better picture. I often ask how things made them feel – what was she thinking when she first heard the diagnosis? And pressed them for details.
Tracey’s husband Steve was a bit more difficult because he was quieter. I also did the interview over the phone with him. I started with basic questions about how he and Tracey met, how they fell in love, why he married her. They were a bit off topic, but I think they made him think and relaxed him a bit. They seemed more difficult than questions about her disease. Then when we got into the interview more, I just kept pushing for the details and emotions.

Q: There are lots of little details that you use to make her human – pink-painted toenails, can’t hold a curling iron, she once showed cattle at the fair. How did you get such details? How important do you think such details are to good storytelling?

Such details are vital to storytelling. The entire time I wrote the story, I kept thinking of the “show, don’t tell” motto, which is difficult to do. It took rewriting to make sure I got the details in, rather than general statements. Some of the details came from my own observations – such as the pink toenails. The curling iron came during a story she told, and the cattle at the fair came from her mom, talking about her daughter’s life. Details can come from anywhere. They really add to the story, helping the reader visualize – like reading a book.

_ Tad Weber

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

"Hunky Jesus" -- should we have covered this?

Several readers have taken us to task for a photo we published inside our Local section on Monday. It showed a man carrying a large cross during the "Hunky Jesus" contest in San Francisco. It was an event that drew several thousand onlookers.
The readers felt the photo offended Christians and their spiritual beliefs, coming as it did the day after Easter. They accused us of showing a bias, in that if an event was demeaning to Muslims, like a "Hunky Muhammad" contest, we likely would not have published that photo.
I, too, was taken aback by the picture. The event offended my sensibilities, given that Easter, the most sacred day to Christians, had just occurred.
This example, though, points to a truism about journalism: On any given day, someone is not going to like the news they see in our paper (or others, for that matter). We publish coverage of Klu Klux Klan rallies when they occur periodically in the South and elsewhere, for example. African American readers cannot like that. We publish comments of certain Middle Eastern leaders, like the president of Iran, who contends the Holocaust did not occur. Jewish readers must be offended by that. And just last month, we had coverage of a controversial speaker at Cal Poly who had certain things to say about Muslims and terrorism. His comments did not go over well with local Muslims.
When it comes to politics, Republicans get upset when we have a story quoting Democrats being critical of President Bush. The vice versa is equally true.
So why do we publish anything that can construed as offensive? In short, because it is newsworthy. A good paper will strive to reflect its community, both its most local and then state and nation. In this case, we reflected an aspect of the culture of San Francisco, a city that has a lot of influence over the liberal side of our national culture and politics.
I welcome your comments.
_ Tad Weber

Monday, April 9, 2007

Letters we won't publish -- and those we will

Q. Do you publish every Letter to the Editor and every Viewpoint that’s submitted?
-- Nipomo Newcomers Club

A. No. We currently receive about 400 letters a month and publish about 75 percent of them. We screen out those that are personally vindictive, libelous, too long or don’t make sense. We’re also careful to avoid rehashing the same arguments over and over. But we will not hold letters just because they don’t allow us to balance readers’ comments on a specific issue. To give you a sense of the type of letters we won’t publish, consider these that we rejected:
-- A postcard from “Nick o’Tine’’ noting that if all those who smoke a pack of cigarettes a day were to stop smoking they could buy one gallon of the “precious combustible liquid that runs el caro” with their savings.
-- A local candidate for mayor who called one of his opponents a “true TERRORIST ready and waiting to destroy our very existence, just the same as the ones that flew the planes into the Twin Towers in New York.’’
-- A letter that appeared to be on the Governor’s stationery, urging his “Dear supporting friends’’ visiting Vienna, Austria, to use his favorite transportation, “Erstes Wiener Erotic Taxi.’’ The stationery included a photo of the taxi service.
-- A letter signed by “Cheeki Buddocks’’ asking “What’s with this guy Dr. Gott? Is he stuck on anal functions?” Attached was the headline from one of Dr. Gott’s columns about irritable bowels.
For the record: The best letters are short and cogent, 150 to 200 words. They make their point quickly and crisply, supported by facts. They are devoid of personal invective -- and if they are written with humor and style, all the better.
Letters should be timely but they don’t have to focus solely on local government or school board decisions. For example, if there is a problem in your neighborhood or something that you think the public needs to know about or an issue that you believe The Tribune has missed or covered inadequately, we encourage you to write about that.
Use the letter to convey your knowledge, critical thinking and point of view to try to influence others. We believe that informative letters help us ask tough questions so that residents can make wise decisions on issues that affect our lives.
Letters sent via e-mail will be published first because we don’t have to re-type them into our computer system. Please send them c/o
_ Sandy Duerr

Friday, April 6, 2007

Missed the daily TV grid? Here's why

Q. Have you discontinued the TV listing from the weekly Tribune? The last two papers (Wednesday and Tuesday) delivered to our home this week do not have a TV listing.
-- Jim Messersmith

Q. We noticed the TV listing was missing on Wednesday and Thursday. We wonder why? Please explain.
-- Readers since 1997

A. We are “testing” the daily TV grid to determine whether we will drop it entirely Monday through Saturday. Our market research strongly indicated that very few people use this daily page. Our complaint count so far bears this out. On Wednesday, we received about 10 calls and on Thursday, about 20. We plan to continue the test a few more days, then make a decision. The grids themselves are reproduced from our Sunday TV Book. If you use the daily TV page, I’d appreciate a brief note clarifying what channels you rely upon. If we restore any part of the listings, we almost certainly will cut out some of the low-rated cable networks. Thanks for your understanding.
-- Sandy Duerr

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Tips for seniors on how to detect e-mail scams

Yesterday's Tribune had a front-page story by staff writer Sona Patel about how law officers on the North Coast are seeing a rise in people trying to scam senior citizens out of their money. Reader Thomas Hutchings offered these additional tips that are useful:

"The Tribune had an important story for seniors. It was about internet email scams. The reporter should have included tips for everyone about reporting the fraud directly. When I receive these scams/phishing/fraudulent emails, I use my mouse to scroll over, without clicking, to see the address where the link goes to. It shows an address that goes to a non-financial related site. With paypal or ebay scams, I simply forward the dubious email to or They work to immediately shut the website down. I also get emails allegedly from my bank. Simply scrolling over the link shows a different address. I send those emails to fraud@(my banks name here). I then delete all the emails without clicking on links. It would be responsible reporting for the Tribune to post legitimate email addresses to report/forward fraudulent emails.
As a suggestion, a followup article on a few simple tips to spot a phony email and email addresses of security at several major financial instititions, such as BofA, Wells Fargo, Wachovia, eBay, PayPal, etc. It could be something that seniors could post next to their computers for immediate reference."

Mr. Hutchings, thanks for the good tips. I will send your story idea to our City Desk. Anyone else want to offer some useful advice?
_ Tad Weber

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Upset by a local news development? Tell us what you think!

In case you haven’t yet noticed, we’ve added the ability to post a comment on all of our local stories online – not just the ones we reference in the morning Tribune. So weigh in on the issues! It’s one more way that we can better understand your points of view on the issues we’re covering.
On another note, we’ve also just added a new element on our home page. It’s at the top of – and directs online readers to a great deal of local tourism content we have had on the site for several months. Both the photo and the content will change and improve over time, says online editor Sally Buffalo. But we think we have a lot to offer now. Are we missing something you’d like to know? Again, let us know.
Thanks, Sandy Duerr

Monday, April 2, 2007

National Poetry Month: The Tribune showcases local poets

April is National Poetry Month, and as she has done for several years now, Features Editor Rochelle Reed is turning over a good part of the Central Coast Living section on Sundays to poetry written by SLO County residents.
Helping choose the poems to highlight this year is Rosemary Wilvert, the 2007 county poet laureate.
The first installment published yesterday, and I found many of the poems to be compelling and thoughtful. Josephine Redlin of Arroyo Grande wrote about her grandson playing Army with his toys, despite his growing up in an anti-war family. Wilmar Tognazzini of Morro Bay told of how he was affected by a loved one's decline due to Alzheimer's disease. Ronald Orszag of Paso Robles wrote about watching a disabled person struggle with his physical limits, and how Ronald was thankful for the "troubles He (God) had chosen for me." Powerful words, all.
You can let Rochelle know your reactions to this special series by e-mailing her at Or simply post a comment here.
_ Tad Weber