Friday, June 29, 2007

Check out our blogs from Baghdad and Jerusalem

Our Washington bureau has launched a new national and international news Web site to showcase special reporting from our reporters in the bureau, as well as throughout McClatchy newspapers nationwide. Also being added are four new reporters’ blogs -- Dion Nissenbaum in Jerusalem, Leila Fadel in Baghdad, Shashank Bengali in Africa and Hannah Allam in Cairo. That's in addition to the existing blogs from Tim Johnson in Beijing and our Iraqi staff in Baghdad. As our Washington editor David Westphal has said, “Our correspondents are doing a nice job of bringing alive the faraway places that have become so important to us at home.’’ I encourage you to check them out:
-- Sandy Duerr

Monday, June 25, 2007

Do we stage photos? Generally no.

At least once a week, our photographers are asked questions like these: Can you make me look 10 pounds lighter? Can you erase my wrinkles? Can I pretend to be doing something while you’re taking my photo?
In other words, would we please “stage” their picture?
The answer: Generally no.
Our photographers deftly try to handle such questions weekly from people who are eager to please.
“They typically ask me something along the lines of ‘What would you like me to do?’ or ‘I can pretend to be doing such and such,’’’ said Joe Johnston, who has worked at The Tribune for seven years.
“My response is always, ‘Just do what you were going to do and pretend I’m not here,’’’ he said. “We are not movie directors,’’ he added. “We document what people actually do.”
To be sure, there are occasions when we set up a photo – whether it’s a business executive in her office or food for Dining Out reviews or fitness experts demonstrating various exercise routines for our weekly Get Fit story.
“But it is clear in these images that the subject is aware of the camera, and readers are sophisticated enough to understand that this is not a found moment,’’ said David Middlecamp, who has been a Tribune photographer for 21 years. “Lights may have been set up,’’ he said, “or I may ask for the subject to sit in a chair that does not have a loading dock behind it.” Tribune photojournalists adhere to the code of ethics established by the National Press Photographers Association, which says they “have the responsibility to document society and to preserve its images as a matter of historical record.”
Clearly, electronic technologies provide new challenges to the integrity of photos. Yet “accurate representation is the benchmark of our profession,’’ the association says. “We believe photojournalistic guidelines for fair and accurate reporting should be the criteria for judging what may be done electronically to a photograph. Altering the editorial content ... is a breach of the ethical standards recognized by the NPPA.” To give you a better understanding of how ethical judgment guides our photography, consider these recent examples:

Snakes on the Plains (pls use female snake picture)
When Johnston met with a Cal Poly biologist conducting research on rattlers at Carissa Plains, she was seeking a female rattlesnake to surgically implant devices that would allow her to locate the snake and track its body temperature over time.
She wasn’t seeking male snakes because she had already tagged enough of them to observe their natural behavior. But if she couldn’t find a female snake, she offered to grab a male snake so that Johnston could photograph her holding a snake.
“I told her to just do what they would normally do,’’ Johnston said. “Fortunately, we found a snake hidden under a rock and they had to grab it and bring it out in order to identify it as male or female and I was able to get a photo of them handling a snake.
“And as luck would have it, we later found a female and I was also able to get additional photos of them handling that snake as well.
“However, if on that day we did not find the female or did not need to handle a snake at all, then my photos would have had to reflect that. I would have just gotten photos of a male snake on the ground undisturbed with the researchers observing it.”

In Meth’s Grip
Often we have to invest time to allow the person we’re photographing to relax and just be themselves, Middlecamp said. “Ordinary moments are far more telling than anything I could imagine.’’
As the photographer who worked on our four-part series on local methamphetamine use, Middlecamp said it was impossible to get all the images he needed in one visit. For example, he spent about 25 hours over six months with a woman recovering from meth addiction to show how she was trying to rebuild her shattered life.
“The routines in her life changed from week to week as she was able to find a job, buy a car and move to a new apartment. The reporter and I had to spend enough time with her to find real moments, but not smother her efforts at recovery,” Middlecamp recalled.
“The more you learn about your subject, when they laugh, what makes them stop and think, the better your images can be.”
None of the images he took during his first meeting with the woman were published. He obtained a leading front-page photo on his last visit.
Should we hide the clutter?
A reader recently complained that photography in our weekly Home section – which takes readers inside local homes and gardens -- didn’t portray local houses to best advantage and suggested that we “stage’’ more photos.
Here’s how Rochelle Reed, features editor of The Tribune, responded:
“Staging is a term used when a home is accessorized in order to sell it. ‘Styling’ is the term that interior-decorating magazines and now television shows use when they temporarily supplement or completely replace a homeowner’s furnishings and accessories with more fashionable items.
“During the decade that I styled homes for decorating magazines, I straightened shelves, hid televisions, replaced dead plants and frequently brought in entirely new furniture. After a time, I realized how unfair we were to readers, who imagined that other homeowners lived in perfect environs totally without clutter. So in Home, we show homes just as they are, often well-lived or … maintained in pristine formality.
“What you see is what really exists.’’

-- Sandy Duerr

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Tech column: Yes, we'll keep publishing one!

Several people have written or called to ask that we try persuading tech columnist Jim Coates from retiring … but if that’s not possible, to please find a good replacement. Indeed, we too are dismayed that the Chicago Tribune columnist is moving on to other adventures in life. But rest assured, there are about four similar Q&A tech columns that we receive through our wire services, so we will be selecting the best one each week. If we find that one particular columnist is head and shoulders above the rest, we’ll stick with that one! We appreciate hearing from all of you!
-- Sandy Duerr

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Can you make a perfect road CD?

Can you make a perfect road CD?
Tribune features copy editor Jay Thompson told features reporter Pat Pemberton it was impossible. Pemberton thought otherwise so he offered to make one for Thompson ... then Thompson offered to make Pemberton a surf compilation. Then they both blogged about it.
Check out what they had to say ... and the mix of songs they chose. Then, decide for yourself.
Personally, I think it's great, and it's fun to read.
Here's the link:

-- Sandy Duerr

Monday, June 18, 2007

Get Tribune headlines through your cell phones!

For those who want to access Tribune headlines through their cells phones, I'm pleased to report that you can now do so!
The Tribune’s headlines are prominently featured on the cell phones of all local Verizon customers, who are able to read the top three paragraphs of those stories, according to Tribune Online Editor Sally Buffalo.
“When users launch the web browser on their cell phone, one of the options on the first screen will be Local, which will then give the following options: breaking news, local, business, sports, weather, movie show times.
McClatchy, which owns The Tribune, is trying to line up similar arrangements with other major cell phone providers, though all phones can access the information at”
-- Sandy Duerr

Friday, June 15, 2007

"Females are not ornamental objects"!

A couple readers have commented online that we are only showing photos of female graduates in The Tribune, adding: “Note to Editors, females are not ornamental objects. Thanks.’’
After reading this, I did a quick survey. The readers are correct; we have portrayed female high school and college graduates more often than men. But it’s a huge leap to conclude that we’re treating women as “ornamental objects.’’ I believe these photos, along with all of our stories on outstanding graduates who have excelled or overcome obstacles, are inspirational – and demonstrate great success.
For those keeping score, here are the results. (I don’t think I’ve missed anything):
Tuesday, May 22: one photo and story, man
Saturday, May 26: two photos, both women
Saturday, June 2: two photos A1, woman and man; B1 photo and story, woman
Sunday, June 3: photo and story B1, woman
Thursday, June 7: two photos, men and women
Friday, June 8: three pictures of high school graduates (the two larger ones featured women, the smaller one featured men)
Saturday, June 9: one picture, women
Wednesday, June 13: two pictures, men
Friday, June 15: two A1 pictures (larger one featured two women and one guy more prominently, smaller one featured men), one on B1, featuring women
My conclusion: In terms of sheer numbers, we published six pictures of men, 11 of women. In terms of size, the edge goes to the women too. Beyond this, we have published features of high school and college graduates, and they’ve been pretty well split among men and women.
For broader context, from time to time we conduct gender audits in our newspaper to see how often we portray or quote women vs. men. Typically, white men receive more coverage than women.

P.S. Don't forget to pick up our Sunday Tribune where we'll have a special section listing the names of all high school graduates in the county, as provided by the schools. Plus, we'll cover Cal Poly's graduation ceremony then too.

-- Sandy Duerr

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Find your high school grad's name in The Tribune

Our coverage of local high school graduations culminates this weekend. Tonight our photographers will cover the pomp and circumstance at Atascadero and Morro Bay, then we head to San Luis Obispo, Paso and Shandon on Friday. Photos and stories will appear on the front-page of The Tribune, unless major breaking news occurs, and slide shows with extra photo coverage will be on
Then be sure to see Sunday's paper or pick up a copy -- we will publish our special grad list section. Every graduate's name will be printed, as supplied by the schools countywide, from Nipomo to Paso.
This is another way we are your community paper.
_ Tad Weber

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Rudy Giuliani says "no'' to private interview for Tribune

Zach Frederick of SLO asked a question that several of you may have from time to time when a major political candidate visits the area: Why didn’t The Tribune get an interview with Rudy Giuliani to ask the former New York mayor’s opinion on migrant labor and nuclear power, among other issues local citizens are concerned about? “Sufficient local journalism would have provided an advance outline of Rudy's visit to Santa Margarita, coverage of the event on the day after (thank you), and a short interview with the candidate about issues of concern to Central Coast residents,’’ Frederick said. “If you asked for an interview and he declined, you should have pressed harder until you got what you wanted.’’

Philosophically, we completely agree with Mr. Frederick, but in reality events like this rarely – if ever – work as he suggests.
In this instance, after we learned that Rudy Giuliani would visit Santa Margarita, we wrote a short story on the upcoming visit and sought a private interview with him. We were told that after Giuliani spoke to the crowd, he’d spend a little time with all local media, collectively, not one-on-one. What occurred, however, was not as promised, according to Assistant City Editor Tony Prado who was in charge of the local coverage Sunday. “Giuliani's visit totaled barely 25 minutes at the park - like the old-fashioned whistle-stop tour,’’ Prado said. “Questions were allowed the moment Giuliani walked off the stage, but he was surrounded by his handlers and a crowd of onlookers taking pictures, listening in and trying to talk to him. He took only four questions, and that was it, then he was off.’’
As Managing Editor Tad Weber puts it, “political campaigns blow off all media at staged events when they want to, from the New York Times to The Tribune.’’ The best way around that is to research an issue in depth, then snare a 20-minute interview on the candidate’s campaign plane or vehicle with just the candidate, Weber added. We have done this in the past. But that wasn’t an option this time.

-- Sandy Duerr

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Are our editorial cartoons anti-Bush?

A reader called me this morning to complain about today's editorial page cartoon on Page B5. It shows a caricature of the president with his arm around Vladimir Putin. Bush asks Putin, "Can I look into your eyes again to see how your soul's doing?" Putin is thinking to himself: "How could I possibly want democracy for Russia if ninnies like this can get elected?"
Such a cartoon is demeaning to the president, the caller said, and he added that he never sees a cartoon that shows Bush in a positive light.
We do not have an opinion cartoonist on our staff, so we purchase them from a wire service. The one today was done by a cartoonist at the Daytona Beach, Fla. paper.
When I have heard editorial cartoonists talk about their work, a key point they make is that they don't care who is occupying the White House. Their main drive is to sketch provocative cartoons about that person, Republican or Democrat. Certainly when Bill Clinton was president, he was skewered frequently by cartoonists.
_ Tad Weber

Monday, June 11, 2007

NYT crossword puzzle and presidential debates

For all of our Sunday New York Times crossword fans, we apologize for the error in Sunday's Tribune. The syndicate sent us wrong information, I'm told, so that the clues, grid and answers didn't match ... yielding great frustration.
We will re-publish the correct puzzle in tomorrow's (Tuesday) edition.

Now to address a question by a faithful reader who found that our coverage last week of the Republican and Democratic presidential debates was unfair. Here's the query, followed by my explanation.

Q. Why did you give the Democratic presidential candidates’ debate greater visibility than you did the Republican presidential candidates’ debate? I think you folks try to be fair. But in this case I don’t think you did.
-- H.Z., Arroyo Grande

A. It is our intent to treat both equally. The stories we published on the debates were the same length. But I can understand your conclusion, given that we published the Democratic debate on page 3 of the A section with three photos, whereas the Republicans’ debate story appeared on page 6 of the A section with one smaller photo.
That occurred because the Democratic debate was on a Sunday when there was little other top news competing for our space (typical for a Sunday). By comparison, Tuesday yielded a great deal of news, from President Bush’s speech confronting Russian President Vladimir Putin, to the possibility of a parole for former White House aide Lewis “Scooter’’ Libby to the anniversary of D-Day.
Looking ahead, it appears that both Democrats and Republicans plan to take advantage of the slow Sunday news cycle. Each has scheduled three presidential debates on Sundays through the rest of this year.

-- Sandy Duerr

Friday, June 8, 2007

Why give "Hostel: Part 2" more press?

Linda R. Beck e-mailed me this morning to ask the following. I'm sharing it with you in the event you wonder the same thing ... and to explain our decision.

"I can understand the paper's decision to review the movie Hostel II (Ticket, 6/7/07) but why did this horror film rate an additional article ("Eli Roth knows how to slay ‘em") describing this movie and the previous one? It's bad enough that such vividly violent material is promoted as entertainment (and gets only an R rating). Does the area's main daily local newspaper have to provide additional publicity and dignify the work as mainline box office material? I understand that much of The Tribune's content comes pre-packaged from other sources, but I expect the local editors to exercise some discretion so that what they print is suitable for the community."

Here's my answer:
You’re correct in noting that we rely on our wire services to provide entertainment information that’s not local -- such as movie reviews and celebrity profiles.
Ticket Editor Justin Hoeger said he selected the second article about “Hostel: Part II” to offer insight into the director’s reasons for making such a disturbing series. “I thought readers might want some insight, upon reading the movie review, into what sort of person makes a movie like this.” The story allows readers to draw their own conclusions, he said.
Both this film and the original “Hostel’’ have been the subject of controversy. “’Hostel’ is frequently mentioned in reviews of other horror movies nowadays, and appears to be one of the standards by which contemporary horror films, or at least a sub-set of them, are judged,” Hoeger said.

-- Sandy Duerr

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Critic: "You weren't fair to Republicans!"

Arroyo Grande resident and longtime reader Harvey Zimmerman called me yesterday with an observation -- and question: "Why did you give the Democratic presidential candidates’ debate greater visibility than you did the Republican presidential candidates’ debate? I think you folks try to be fair. But in this case I don’t think you did."

Here is what I shared with him:
It is our intent to treat both campaigns equally. The stories we published on the debates were the same length. But I can understand your conclusion, given that we published the Democratic debate on page 3 of the A section with three photos, whereas the Republicans’ debate story appeared on page 6 of the A section with one smaller photo.
That occurred because the Democratic debate was on a Sunday when there was little other top news competing for our space (typical for a Sunday). By comparison, Tuesday yielded a great deal of news, from President Bush’s speech confronting Russian President Vladimir Putin, to the possibility of a parole for former White House aide Lewis “Scooter’’ Libby to the anniversary of D-Day.
Looking ahead, it appears that both Democrats and Republicans plan to take advantage of the slow Sunday news cycle. Each has scheduled three presidential debates on Sundays through the rest of this year.
-- Sandy Duerr

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Covering the environment, by design

One of the major story lines we orient our coverage by is the environment. Whether it is new development , preservation of greenbelts or species protection, we want to be the first to bring that news to you.
That is why our front page and are loaded today with environmentally related news topics. Staff Writer Kathe Tanner reports how the annual count of gray whale calves shows fewer animals swimming by our county and quotes a scientist speculating about possible reasons for the decline. AnnMarie Cornejo, who covers Pismo Beach, relates how city officials will try new ways to limit pigeons roosting on the town's pier, in an effort to clean up bacterial contamination that has closed the ocean waters just south of the wharf. And our Washington, D.C.-based reporter, David Whitney, reports on the latest tally of the health of the nation's estuaries. Morro Bay came out cleaner than most.
We do this because you have told us environmental coverage remains a key topic of interest to you. Let us know what you think.
_ Tad Weber

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

We cover high school graduations countywide

One of the proudest moments in any person's life is high school graduation, and we will be bringing readers complete coverage of all the pomp and circumstance again this year.
For example, today Templeton Independent Study High student Kellie Moss graces our Local section front page with a huge smile.
We kicked off our coverage in Saturday's issue with coverage of the Mission Prep graduation. One of our photos shows graduate Delise Rietkerk joyously running to embrace fellow grad Melissa Munoz.
As the graduations roll on this week and next, our photographers will be there. Look for extra photos of the ceremonies from some of the graduations to be posted on
Our effort culminates on Sunday, June 17, when we publish our special supplement that lists the names of the graduates from our area's high schools. For proud parents, it will be a neat keepsake.
_ Tad Weber

Monday, June 4, 2007

Catch the news with "Morning Headlines'' ... plus a reader's query on John Wayne

Sign up for The Tribune’s “Morning Headlines’’ at this link:

If you don’t have a chance to read your Tribune some mornings, I encourage you to sign up for “Morning Headlines,’’ the first of our e-mail newsletters.
We’re launching it around 8 a.m. today to give you the top four stories and photo of the day – two from our local news report and two more from Business, Sports or Features. Our staff will produce it every weekday.
Our intent is to “make it easier for you to keep up with local news, information and events by bringing that news right to your e-mail inboxes,’’ said Online Editor Sally Buffalo.
We also plan to send alerts when news breaks that we believe you would want to know immediately – such as a serious traffic tie-up, a fire or crime that could close off certain areas, a major news story or the death of a well-known figure, Buffalo said.
In coming weeks, we will offer an afternoon news update by e-mail as well.
“Morning Headlines’’ will offer a one-sentence summary of each news item and give a link to read the entire story on our Web site,
There, you’ll find a host of other information too, including audio and video reports and source documents that are exclusively online. Last month, for example, you could have accessed 80 documents, seven audio slideshows, three videos and 12 polls.
That’s not counting the wide range of other online features that complement and enhance our coverage of the county. Planning on touring a few wineries? Check out our suggested wine itineraries. Want to take a hike? Use one of our guides. Wondering where to eat out tonight? Browse through 250 local restaurant reviews.
One last note: If you’re not already checking throughout the day and evening for news updates, I encourage you to do so. Our reporters post nine to 12 breaking news stories there every Monday through Friday. And five reporters and editors now write blogs on the local entertainment scene and tourism, high school and collegiate sports and a peek behind our own curtain here at The Tribune (similar to this column, only online daily).
Clearly, the way in which we all obtain information is changing dramatically.
But you can count on us to navigate the waters locally and to be your trusted source. We’ll break news online but continue to give you more analysis and a deeper understanding of issues in our newspaper.

Q. What wonderful stories were told about John Wayne in Saturday's paper, May 26. I had tears in my eyes when I finished. I could hardly wait to see his movies all week long. It's Sunday now, and once again I have tears. After searching the TV program schedule and finding nothing about John Wayne, I went to the channel Web site. What a drag. The movies were on last week. How can you do such a thing? You print a story a week late as though it were up to date. ... Did you also participate in producing that newspaper that declared that Dewey had beaten Truman? … How are you going to make up for this? -- John Wolcott, San Luis Obispo

A. As John Wayne told Susan Hayward when he played Genghis Kahn in the movie, “The Conqueror,” ‘Yer beautiful in yer wrath! I shall keep you, and in responding to my passions, yer hatred will kindle into love.’ Clearly, it wasn’t our intent to upset you. Rather, it was to celebrate Wayne’s life and the impact he had on the film industry and people like you and me. Two of the three stories we published didn’t run on our wire services until late in the day May 23 and May 24, although the main story that listed 100 reasons to love Wayne did run earlier. We packaged three stories together because we had room in Saturday’s paper to offer a full page, which we lacked earlier in the week. Could we have published one story earlier to remind readers to look at their TV schedules for John Wayne films? Yes. How will we make up for this? By striving to alert you in advance to milestones like John Wayne’s birthday. To quote the Duke himself: “Tomorrow is the most important thing in life. Comes into us at midnight very clean. It's perfect when it arrives and it puts itself in our hands. It hopes we've learned something from yesterday.

-- Sandy Duerr

Friday, June 1, 2007

A viewer criticizes us for allowing anonymous comments

One of our Web viewers took us to task today for allowing anonymous comment posting to our Web site:

"I think it is a shame that you let everyone post comments anonymously on your website, something you never have allowed in letters to the editor, and for good reason. If people were forced to leave their true identities when commenting then maybe there wouldn't be all this terrible, ugly, sickening trash talk stinking up this website. People will say anything, mindlessly beat up anyone with their words, if they don't have to take any responsibility for it. I imagine you allow it just so you can show that you have people interacting with your site. It's a sad trade-off which I think does more harm than good for our community. Don't you agree?"
_ David Ciaffardini, Oceano

To be sure, anonymity and the use of psuedonyms are widespread across the Internet. We are no different than most media sites. The prevailing theory is that it is more engaging to have a lively debate, even if it means letting people hide their true identities.

As to whether that causes more harm than good, that is open for debate. To be sure, ugly commenting does occur on our site, like most any Internet site that includes controversial topics. But there is also a lot of nastiness on talk radio, TV talk shows, etc.

I commend David for being up front about his identity with his comments. He has also been the most regular participant on this blog since Sandy Duerr and I launched it earlier this year. It would be great to have more participants, especially those who are willing to be recognized when they post.
_ Tad Weber