Archive for September, 2013

Would you like ‘Baby Blues’ or ‘DeFlocked’ for your comics page?

Thursday, September 26, 2013

If you’d told me when I was 14 that one day I would have a job where someone would come and try to sell me comic strips, I would have been pretty thrilled.

Well, I actually have that job!

So now I fret about it.

comixAs an actual documented grownup, I have to take things seriously. That means I have to keep a couple of things in mind:

a) Comics cost money. They’re actually a fairly significant expense for a newspaper — worth it if they’re a part of what readers like, but an expense nonetheless. And some are more expensive than others. Furthermore, comics syndicates tend to increase the prices annually. Newspapers try to resist because we don’t want to pass on more costs to readers. Anyway, there’s an economic factor that you might not realize as you chuckle (or groan) at a comics page.

b) Newspapers like to encourage people to develop a comics reading habit. That’s a good thing for newspapers and for those who enjoy the comics. But there’s a dark side! If you’ve encouraged your readers to develop a habit, you can be afraid to change. Some strips hang on too long — even past their creators — because it’s hard to know if you’re going to make the readers angry by switching a comic they like for a new one.

That said, we have made changes on the Charleston Daily Mail’s comics pages the past couple of years. Two years ago, we swapped out “For Better or Worse,” which was in reruns, for “Pearls Before Swine.” A little less than a year ago, we switched “Herman,” whose creator had died, for “The Flying McCoys.”

Well, it’s comics strip sales season again.

This week I had a representative come to my office. He urged me to take a look at a couple of strips:

“Baby Blues”

Hilarious and heartfelt, Baby Blues is about parenting, pure and simple. Except that it’s not simple. Or all that pure, for that matter. It’s about life with kids, and nearly 55 million readers daily enjoy and relate to this married couple’s wing-and-a-prayer approach to parenting.

From temper tantrums to toilet training, everyday experiences that all parents agonize over and laugh about serve as fertile comedic ground for award-winning creators Jerry Scott and Rick Kirkman.

* Important note: My mother-in-law likes “Baby Blues.”










What happens when strangers become family? DeFlocked is about four outcasts who are suddenly forced to coexist and face their deepest flaws, prejudices, fears and desires. It all plays out deep in the folds of American suburbia on a centuries-old working farm called Lubberland Farms. Behind the hay bales and fertilizer lies a secret animal preserve for the displaced, the disenchanged and highly disoriented. Hence, the name of the strip.









What would you like to see on the Charleston Daily Mail comics page?

Here’s what we run right now:

Real Life Adventures


Close to Home

The Flying McCoys



Pearls Before Swine

Beetle Bailey


Mark Trail 

Frank and Ernest 

Grand Avenue



Family Circus

At the Daily Mail Kanawha County Band & Majorette Festival

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Tonight I’ll be taking part in a newspaper institution — The Daily Mail Kanawha County Majorette & Band Festival.

bandfestThe Daily Mail has sponsored the event for ages — in fact, tonight’s is the 67th festival — and the editor or a representative attends as an ambassador. I have to admit I am not a “band geek,” and I have only attended this festival once before, many years ago. Still, I enjoy tradition and am looking forward to participating in a non-musical, non-marching capacity.

The newspaper has already been touting the festival with stories, plus photos of the participants. We’ll have full coverage tomorrow, including great pictures of all of the participating Kanawha County bands plus the Pride of WestVirginia, West Virginia University’s marching band.

Meanwhile, I’ll be trying to get some video live from the event. I’m not a video genius, so the sound and the visuals might be a little off. Still, check back after 6:30 tonight and see for yourself. (Before I take fresh video at the festival, the widget will display older and unrelated content — and likewise if you are reading this post in the future, the widget will likely move on to new video.)

Or better yet, go to the festival! It’s at Laidley Field, starting at 6:30.

‘Hollow’ documentary provides reflections on home

Friday, September 20, 2013

One recent day, when I had a little free time, I drove over to Riverside High School to see my friend Elaine McMillion lead a presentation of her film project, “Hollow: An Interactive Documentary.

Elaine McMillion

Elaine McMillion

I have known Elaine a long time now. She was twice a reporting intern for the Daily Mail, including an extended internship after she graduated from WVU in 2009.

We would have been delighted to keep her, but Elaine was destined to leave. She went to Emerson University in Boston to study documentary filmmaking, and “Hollow” was the result.

Maybe you have read about “Hollow” already. The name has two meanings. It refers to the valley between two mountains — and to the empty space that’s left when something that was there isn’t any more.

“Hollow” is the story of McDowell County, told by its residents, about what was there and what is and isn’t there now.

One of Elaine’s great gifts has always been her ability to relate to people and to elicit their trust. She appreciates what’s interesting about people, and that comes out in the stories in “Hollow.”

The stories McDowell County residents tell in “Hollow” are of loss and hope.

There is sorrow over lost population and lost opportunities.

But there’s also a love of community and love of the land.

These are stories of people who have stayed – despite the dismal economy, despite the drug problems, despite the departures of their friends and families.

They cling to their community, try to make the best of what remains and hope for better days.

Accompanying Elaine to her presentations of “Hollow” at Kanawha County libraries was Alan Johnston, a musician, photographer and lifelong McDowell County resident.

He said something of Welch that was echoed by almost everybody featured in the project.

“It’s almost like a ghost town. That doesn’t make me love it any less,” Johnston said. “My heart is in McDowell County.”

Many West Virginians — even those who have left — feel that way about their home.

Unless you are from a growing area like the Eastern Panhandle, or Putnam County, or maybe Morgantown, there is a good chance your community isn’t what it used to be.

The viewing of “Hollow” that I attended included a class of seniors at Riverside. At one point, Elaine asked how many plan to stay in West Virginia.

With students, it’s hard to tell if they’re being shy or quietly thinking over what you’ve said. Anyway, only a few cautiously raised their hands. One boy offered that he would probably end up working in the coal mines.

Elaine provided her own point of view: “I left, and now I’m trying to figure out how to make it back.”

If you are interested in the story of West Virginians, told by themselves, you don’t have to go anywhere besides a computer in your own home.

Just install Google Chrome – the web browser that works best with the way “Hollow” was set up – and go to

Once you’re there, you scroll through multi-layered pictures. As the images move, hotspots appear with links to videos and other features.

There are 30 stories that can be watched in any order, all according to your own preference.

If you watch, you might recognize the reflection of your own home, your own people, your own life.

We welcome two whizzes to our copy desk

Friday, September 13, 2013

Copy editors are unsung heroes.

Their work is such a blend of skills — careful reading, writing headlines that make the point in a zippy and interesting way, laying out pages that are attractive and easy to navigate, and, increasingly, handling web content with all those same goals.

That’s why you want some bright people on your copy desk.

We feel fortunate at the Daily Mail to have several people who match that description — and we’ve just added two more smart staffers.

You might not see their names in the paper because they work behind the scenes, but these are two people who will make the rest of us look good.

Samantha Ricketts

Samantha Ricketts

Samantha Ricketts graduated magna cum laude in 2011 from Concord University, where she was also an honors scholar. She double-majored in English and Spanish and has a minor in psychology (which, believe me, will come in handy when working in a newsroom.)

She had practically every leadership position at the Concordian, her college student newspaper, during her time there. Opinions editor, news editor and editor in chief.

Samantha is a Charleston native and a George Washington High School graduate. And, oh yeah, was a National Merit Finalist.

How did she find her way into journalism? Here’s what she had to say:

I’ve always enjoyed reading and writing, and in middle school my class started up the school newspaper that had been MIA for a few years. I was an editor (and came up with the name) for the John Adams Monthly Scoop (JAMS). Then I joined the GW newspaper as an editor, although I think we only put out one issue. And I continued on to move through the editor-chain for the student newspaper at Concord, ultimately becoming editor-in-chief. I also was always asked to edit friends’ papers for school, and I thought that was fun, in a weird way.

Heather Greenfield

Heather Greenfield

Heather Greenfield tallied a 3.9 grade point average at Shepherd College, where she graduated this past spring with a major in English and a minor in print journalism. She was a McMurran Scholar, Shepherd University’s highest academic honor.

Heather was editor in chief of the Picket, the student newspaper at Shepherd. She was also a radio reporter for 89.7 FM WSHC in Shepherdstown, plus a reporting intern for the Shepherdstown Chronicle. She is a Martinsburg High School graduate.

If you care to know, and I bet you do, she claims to spend her spare time writing poetry about professional wrestlers from the 1980s and recently took up disc golf and knitting.

Here’s how Heather says she got where she is now:

A series of lying individuals tricked me into journalism. I was an aspiring education major, but my advisor implied that an education minor was useless and that I should try a journalism class instead. On my first day of Intro to Print, the university newspaper’s news editor told me I should come to their meeting to “check them out.” I was desperate for friends so I went. There was no “checking out.” I was given two assignments that I failed miserably at. So I kept going to the meetings and taking assignments to prove that I didn’t suck. Somewhere in there, I fell in love with journalism.

So, welcome to Heather and Sam! Welcome to our workplace, and please catch our mistakes.

This was Heather waving enthusiastically on her first day. Behind her is Sam. This picture is also an example of why we have professional photographers.

This was Heather waving enthusiastically on her first day. Behind her is Sam.
This picture is also an example of why we have professional photographers.




Remembering Sept. 11, and the Newseum’s Top 10

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

On Sept. 11, 2001, the Daily Mail was still an afternoon newspaper, so when the first plane hit the Twin Towers that morning, our staff jumped into action.

If you remember, no one knew what was happening at first — or how widespread the attacks were. The second plane hitting the Twin Towers and then the plane that hit the Pentagon only drove in the confusion and anxiety.

So when local reporters like me were dispatched to tall buildings, government offices, the airport, chemical plants or anywhere else we could imagine there might be an attack it was with a great deal of uncertainty, yet a sense of purpose.

The newspaper we put out that afternoon was one to be proud of.

And I’m pleased to say our tradition continues.

Today, on the anniversary of that horrible day, the Daily Mail was honored by the Newseum.

The Newseum often has themes for its Top 10 front pages feature. Today’s was for newspapers that successfully combined coverage of the 9-11 anniversary with President Obama’s national address about Syria.

Here’s what The Newseum said:

Today’s front pages offered a fascinating juxtaposition of two major news stories: President Barack Obama’s speech on the possibilities of diplomacy and force with Syria, and the anniversary of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The pairing of these stories offers quite a lot of food for thought on a day that encourages us to “never forget.”


Congratulations to Daily Mail news editor Ashlee Maddy, who designed the page, freelance photographer T.J. Lawhon, who took the photograph of the memorial in Barboursville, and graphic artist Kevin Cade, who designed the “Always Remember” package above the nameplate.

Here’s a Daily Mail editorial published today, “September 11 is a day for us never to forget.”


Delays and Doonesbury

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Noticed any “Doonesbury” strips that seem familiar lately?

doonesburyIf so, that’s probably because creator Garry Trudeau hasn’t been cranking out new ones lately. Trudeau put his most famous creation on hiatus over the summer while he worked on a new creation — “Alpha House,” a live action comedy that has been picked up by Amazon Studios.

The pause in Doonesbury panels was originally going to be from June 10 to Labor Day.

Yesterday, newspaper editors like me got an update. Trudeau still isn’t coming back to daily comic strip pages like ours at the Charleston Daily Mail.

Here’s the email I got from Universal  Press:

Garry Trudeau has informed us that following “Doonesbury’s” return to Sunday comic pages, and as he continues to write and produce “Alpha House” for Amazon Prime, he has been forced to acknowledge a cruel reality: He’s human.

Garry writes: “I have hit the wall. This is a painful decision, but as the deadline loomed, I had to finally concede that the demands of completing the show have made it impossible for me to return to the strip on schedule. I deeply regret the inconvenience this will undoubtedly cause you, who have already shown much forbearance and patience through ‘Doonesbury’s’ absence. I greatly value your past loyalty, and look forward to returning to your pages in November.”

The bottom line is that the return of “Doonesbury” daily comics will be delayed for 10 more weeks, to the week of Nov. 18; Sundays will continue to be new and fresh. “Doonesbury Flashbacks” will give readers their daily dose of adventure from the Walden gang as we look forward to the next chapter in “Doonesbury’s” story.

So that’s the latest, comics page readers. What do you think? Are you happy to wait a few more weeks for fresh Doonesbury? Or is it time for comics pages like ours to move on? Some newspapers are using the time to sub in new comic strips to let readers sample alternatives.

I’m not a huge fan of Doonesbury. I think it’s a generational thing. I’m more of a “Bloom County,” “Calvin & Hobbes” or “Far Side” kind of guy, but alas those options are no longer available.

Anyway, I’d enjoy hearing your thoughts.

Come work for the Charleston Daily Mail

Monday, September 2, 2013

The Charleston Daily Mail in West Virginia’s capital is seeking a reporter with up to three years of experience to cover local news for print and online readers.

This position has the capacity for a wide variety of stories, including breaking news, enterprise and features. We’re looking for a writer with a nose for detail, the ability to tell a great story and the drive to break news. Ideal candidates have a strong work ethic, curiosity and passion for journalism.

We’re a team-oriented workplace in a competitive news environment. We take pride in our newspaper but also want to have a vibrant presence online. Our reporters sometimes shoot photos and video; they tweet and blog.

Sound fun and rewarding? Please send resume and clips to editor Brad McElhinny at