Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Your opinion, please!

2:12 p.m. Today's project was to attend a meeting at the Press-Enterprise with fellow Alumnae Panhellenic officers and chairwomen, since I have been appointed Publicity Chair for the next home tour in October 2009. I've held that position before, and it only gets busy in early September, and wraps up by October. If the information is not published in various media by then, it won't get done. Now that word is out that I'm retired, the group's president wasted no time getting me involved in the sorority women's charity, which raises scholarship money for senior high school girls. The group is heading into its 60th year, and I've been involved since 1993.
When I entered the huge, modern new building, I asked for the name I'd been given, and was escorted into the conference room. That's a bit much, I thought, for a meeting about Home Tour publicity with 5 of us and the local ad writer. Well, good thing I wore a nice pantsuit! There were a couple dozen prominent citizens, many of whom I knew, from public education, Cal Baptist, business concerns, and community groups like the downtown museum . I was delighted to chat at length with the retired head of the International Baccalaureate program from North High, who had known Kriss very well, and commented on seeing the notice of his recent marriage in the paper. Linda is just as lively and outspoken as ever, and judging from all the retired talent I saw in that conference room, Riverside will have its share of experienced, opinionated folk to deal with--hope city leaders listen well.
As the staff introduced themselves--V.P. of News, Managing Editor, Designer, and Metro Editor --I thought, they really want to know what we think, bringing out the big guns! So the focus group began. Prototype newspapers were taped on three walls, and we were all given small pads, pens, and the first version.
As a Christian, I do feel torn at times, lending precious hours to public service, since I voluntarily left elected office 4 years ago in favor of devoting time to ministry at Calvary Chapel. I certainly love my fellowship with other believers, not to mention my time at home with Steve, but I am grateful God provides places to use my testimony and reputation to witness for Christ . I don't necessarily get a chance to speak privately with individuals at these events, but when I do, I use the opportunity to share about what I do at church, in answer to the question, "What are you up to lately?" I especially find that sharing about the reason for my retirement makes people think a bit, too, about their own priorities. Or I would hope it does! When it comes to caring for family, scripture is very clear: "If anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his own household, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel." (I Timothy 5:8) That's a designation we all want to avoid!
The focus process was explained thus: we would go through page after page of three versions of the P.-E., be shown what is different about each, and fill out a survey. Questions would be kept to the end, so no ideas would influence others. Even the version numbers, 310, 690, or 924, were crafted to be as random as possible, again, to avoid any priorotizing slant, like "1, 2, or 3."
Headings and the rearrangement of local and national news were discussed, mainly because in former surveys, opinion has stated that readers want a local paper for local news, mostly. Ads are mixed in with content, and obituaries are enlarged because they are moneymakers, something I'd not realized. I found all three versions to be a hodgepodge, and never did find the weather page. I have a similar awkward time each morning accessing what I want to read, because the format changes semi-yearly! So I end up reading very little of the paper before I go on with my day.
In the "further comments" area, I did mention content issues: one unflattering photo of a local young ballerina bordering on the obscene--couldn't the photographer have asked her to pose in a more ladylike manner? I also wrote about the lack of mention of a very prominent local college athlete who's about to be drafted into the NFL, a fine Christian young man and best friend of my son Steven. Hey--when you have the ear of a newspaper editor, it's no time to be shy! One content question concerned putting an ad page in between the op-ed and the opinion columns. What sense did that make, when a reader with a taste for those columns would want to consider them all together?
The unexpected thing for me was, that after we finished the survey and the floor was opened up for questions and comments, there was a very loud consensus from all corners of the room that the paper's arrangement is a mess! If the "A" section is headed World and Nation, what on earth is local news doing there? And if labled Local, why is San Bernardino included? (Keep in mind that the paper has four separate versions sent to various Inland Empire locales ). Another complaint heard was the lack of coverage of Moreno Valley or Jurupa.
We were told about the setting of the printing presses and cutting costs, valid points, certainly. But there is no excuse for cutting common sense out of the arrangement of news, even on a limited budget. Attendees probably wouldn't agree on much of anything else, but one thing was clear: if we are to support a local newspaper, it needs to be coherently written.
Some of us have a very high standard of quality for what we read, because we compare all things to the absolute accuracy, correctness, logic and readability of the Word of God. Only the Bible is perfect in every regard--impossible for anyone but God. But scripture is also clear about how people are to conduct their professional lives: "Do you see a man who excels in his work? That man shall stand before kings." (Proverbs 22:29)
Christians are told in Colossians 3:23, "Whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men."
That's our standard of excellence!

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