Imagining a New Rocky Mount Telegram – Part 2

“The greatest influence over content was a necessity–they had holes to fill on every page and jammed in any vaguely newsworthy string of words, provided it didn’t include expletives, which they were apparently saving for their own use around the office.”                            Tom Rachman, The Imperfectionists

Next week, this blog, Main Street Rocky Mount, will be celebrating its 2nd anniversary. If there is one thing I have learned in the time I’ve been publishing,  Rocky Mount DESERVES and NEEDS a newspaper that promotes a positive approach every day to the community. There is no need for filling the holes in the paper with people we don’t know, with stories that aren’t ours. Perhaps reporting what the local High School football teams have for breakfast on game day is a step too far, (Click Here for Part I) but I am certain that growing the paper’s circulation, which attracts advertising, will only happen by rethinking the content of the Telegram. We need to expand our weekly dedicated columns to re-engage readers because it is OUR area news, about OUR area neighbors, all speaking to the stability of the community. We need a reinvigorated newspaper that helps create a positive image that will encourage new people to move here, entice new businesses, and provide a rationale to spend money here rather than elsewhere.

Let’s start with a cardinal rule…the front page will always shine the best light on the community. There is nothing wrong with publishing a Telegram that is unabashedly proud of the people, places, and the accomplishments of its readers and advertisers. We need columns that everyone looks forward to reading that appear at least once a week if not daily. Let’s feature our historic district neighborhoods, our architecture, the residents past and present who have interesting stories to share. We need a column that educates the public about the benefits of preservation. A daily business column that pays tribute to our reliable long time businesses and gives expanded coverage on everything new. Our organizations should not have to rely on submitting a single photograph with a bit of explanation, but a regular column that touts their good works, the significant contributions they make every day. There are endless cultural items for a column on the arts, theater, and music. We need a restaurant column now, a Mill column, a great real estate column that tells a story of the property for sale, its architectural significance, its place in the neighborhood. What about a column that is written by and for high school students?  I could go on….It isn’t that today’s newspaper doesn’t touch on the things I’ve mentioned, but it all gets lost, surrounded by excess filler that is of no interest to us. Our local sense of place and character has to fight its way onto people’s radar screen. People are no longer reading newspapers for their political content, so fed up with bias and unreliability, so I contend that emphasis on local content, with an eye on putting our best foot forward, will be good for what ails the Telegram and be invaluable to the community.

One last thing….We need to get a grip on the impact our crime reporting has. It has definitely improved, keeping that news off the front page, but let’s always report it further back in the paper in the same place, easily found for those who read such things.  We have enough problems with people who are whistling an unexamined old tune about the ”dangerous’ downtown, in spite of statistics to prove otherwise. It really isn’t necessary to shoot ourselves in the foot every time bad people do bad things. Rocky Mount NEEDS a renewed partnership with their newspaper sharing a common mission. You help us tell a positive story of Rocky Mount and her surroundings, and we’ll provide a new, engaged readership. There are knowledgeable people here who would provide these columns as sweat equity in the revitalization process of the entire area until the paper turns around and revenues are up. I promise to deliver them!  It’s the best offer you are going to get today. I’d rather see a newspaper printed once a week filled with our great story in a positive light than a declining readership that has lost interest in other people’s news.

 

Wonder how Main Street readers feel about a more localized newspaper? Leave a comment below or be in touch.

 

 

 

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About Stepheny Forgue Houghtlin

Stepheny Forgue Houghtlin grew up in Evanston, IL. and is a graduate of the University of Kentucky. She is an author of two novels: The Greening of a Heart and Facing East. She lives, writes and gardens in NC. Visit her: Stephenyhoughtlin.com
This entry was posted in Stepheny's Rocky Mount Reflections and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Imagining a New Rocky Mount Telegram – Part 2

  1. Terri Fieldman says:

    Great articles. Here in Massachusetts I prefer our local once a week paper that tells about and highlights the lical flavor. We know when town sports tryouts are, what our schools are doing, what’s new in town, what’s old in town. You get what I’m saying.

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  2. Lindell says:

    You are confusing two separate issues. You talk about a more positive paper and a more local paper. That’s not the same thing. The paper could get hyper local and still report on crime. There’s a lot out there not being reported. What you want is positive. You want a press release saying every day that Rocky Mount is great. That’s not journalism. That’s public relations. You have severely confused the two. Journalism is about telling the truth, not telling positive stories. Or negative either, but just how things are. You also make some unfounded assumptions such as folks don’t read newspapers for politics. What’s your support for that claim? Start a newspaper with all good news, ignore the bad and see how long it stays in business. Or as the great newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst said, “News is something somebody doesn’t want printed; all else is advertising.” I like your blog. It’s not news.

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    • Thanks!!! for taking the time to leave this comment to the post on Imagining a different Telegram. I appreciate your saying, “Wait a minute, Stepheny, you need to think this through again. You’re talking public relations, not journalism.” Thinking about it, you’re right. Being a ‘have my cake and eat it too’ kind of gal, I’m hoping for both. Maybe my plea would have been stronger if I had stuck to my contention that filling the paper with ‘stuff unrelated to us is not selling papers. Wait, journalism is not selling the paper either. You’re right, I don’t have a statistic to prove people are fed up with how politics is served up in the newspaper and no longer rely on it for reliability and balance unless the decrease in subscribers who have had it with journalism counts for something. I haven’t got a figure to prove that, only a fair amount of people who tell me they have stopped getting the newspaper because they have had it with political bias. I have just added you to my mythical staff because you would insist the paper refrain from taking some magical flight and I need people in my life who pull me back to earth. I LOVE the Hearst quote. I wish I’d remembered it to use. I guess I am still in the advertising business. Thanks for meeting me on Main Street. I appreciate your insight here.

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  3. CE - Amateur Grammar Fairy says:

    Stepheny ~ So many wonderful points you have on increasing and improving coverage of local history and cultural highlights in the Telegram! As you mentioned, the Telegram also includes briefs and stories on a daily basis that have no impact (direct or indirect) on the local community. In fact some of this “news” is horrific and has no place in any publication! The Telegram editors should have more respect for its readers.

    For the size and scope of the Telegram, I am also shocked at the atrocious state of what is accepted by its editors as newspaper-quality writing. The local paper is “infamous” for its daily grammatical carnage (errors in spelling, subject-verb agreement, misplaced modifiers, punctuation, and the names of people, places, and streets). Is the editor on permanent vacation?

    And what of the articles without end. Wait, let me clarify. The articles just drop off…unfinished…without even a “to be continued….” Did the article not quite fit in the space on the page? Oh well, I guess that justifies lopping off that last sentence? No, it does not.

    On a more positive note, I want to give kudos to the Telegram’s local photographers. Adam and Sarah are true artists who bring magical images to the readers’ days! And kudos are also due to the sports writers; their coverage of the local athletes and events truly reflects the reporters’ passion for their subject.

    And last but not least, I am delighted that the Telegram provides a regular space for the musings, reminisces, and advice of contributors such as Bill Stancil, Kent King (and son!), Milton Fields, etc. These local folks and the written delights they share with us are true treasures. And that goes for you as well, Stepheny – thank you!

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    • Thank you for taking the time to weigh in on these two posts about imagining a new Telegram. I hope you will join my imagined staff to edit everything for a flawless finished project. Wouldn’t that be nice? Glad you mentioned the positive things that are indeed included in the paper. I am positive with people like you, we could have a wonderful time turning out a new and improved newspaper.You won’t hurt my feelings if you catch something on Main Street that needs fixing. Hope you will continue keeping me company on the blog.

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  4. Kip Meadows says:

    I would like to applaud and support this sentiment of being positive and highlight what we love and support. Being negative is self perpetuating. Not sure the Telegram can pivot like that since it isn’t owned locally and is in essence combined with Greenville.

    But this blog deserves support and shares and adding your voice. Our community will be what we make it and perception and positive reinforcement of the good things helps make more good things happen.

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    • I could have saved all the time it took to write and tweak these two posts about the Telegram if I had just published Kip Meadows comment. He said it best and in fewer words. He makes my Telegram staff and will make sure we present a positive face on the news. Thank you for weighing in and for keeping me company on Main Street.

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  5. Larry Alston says:

    It’s been my experience that The Telegram relies on “contributing” writers for a lot of the positive stories. School parents send in articles that showcase a lot of what you’re advocating. Unfortunately, a lot of those parents are not “writers”. The Telegram makes an attempt to cover local sports, but their coverage is spotty and, in my opinion, biased towards certain schools. I do agree that The Telegram could use some editing improvement.

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    • Hi Larry: I appreciate your taking the time to leave a comment on the Telegram posts. It’s a dilemma, isn’t it? A realistic approach to the news but served up in a way that serves the community too. I am adding you to my mythical staff for editing. Thank you for reading the blog and meeting me along Main Street.

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