Archive for March, 2015

Introducing: ‘Phoebe and Her Unicorn’

Sunday, March 29, 2015

We’re making another change on the Charleston Daily Mail’s comics page. (Sorry, online readers, you’ll have to get a paper or check out our e-edition.) The new strip is “Phoebe and Her Unicorn,” and we’re getting in on the ground floor. The strip is debuting in about a hundred newspapers around the country, including ours.

phoebeThis is the story of a precocious little girl, Phoebe, and her best friend, a unicorn, Marigold Heavenly Nostrils. The author is Dana Simpson, who was interviewed by the Daily Mail’s Billy Wolfe last week.

I was feeling reluctant about adding a new strip because readers are resistant to change, and we’ve added several new features over the past few years. But we liked what we saw from “Phoebe” — a gently-humored strip with recurring characters. Our comics survey from last year showed a hunger for more comic strips like this.

It didn’t hurt that the main character is a girl, which sets the strip apart from much of what we have on our current page. My own little girl sat down with the sample packet and read everything in it.

Now for the bad news: For something new to be added, something needs to go. In this case, that’s “Shoe.” That strip still has many fans, but we’ve been carrying it long past its creator, Jeff MacNelly, passed away in 2000. Sorry, “Shoe” fans.

Give “Phoebe and Her Unicorn” a chance. We hope you like it.

Against NCAA rules — the liveblog

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The NCAA still blows the whistle on journalists liveblogging during games. Rules are rules, right?

Newsroom overhaul in overdrive

Monday, March 9, 2015

Meet the new crew: Samantha Ricketts, left, Heather Greenfield, Kelsey Thomas and Andrea Rectenwald. Today marks one year since Andrea was hired, making her the last person to join the staff after the departure of four copy editors in about six months. Former copy editor Steven Gill is in the background. Photo by Craig Cunningham.

Imagine you’re the captain of a veteran hockey team that’s been battle-tested and has numerous titles to its name. Now imagine that you suddenly have to replace four of your six players. Well, a year ago today, the six-person Daily Mail copy desk replaced its fourth editor in almost six months.

As with any profession, staff turnover is a part of the job — new opportunities and life changes lead people elsewhere. Newspapers are no different. We consider ourselves lucky when we can make it a year without someone leaving, but even more so on copy desk because of the number of hats they wear on the job.

Their first job is, as the name implies, to edit copy. They read for errors factual and grammatical, sometimes even having to do math. They write headlines. They select stories from the newspaper wire services. They determine where stories go in the paper. They do page layout. They design section fronts. They upload stores to the Web. They occasionally write stories and columns.

When I was on copy desk, with each new responsibility I was assigned, my supervisor kept me on it for weeks on end until I’d seen every situation I could. This continued for three years until I was assigned to do Page One, the pinnacle of copy editor duties, or the face of the newspaper, as our former publisher would say.

So you can see the amount of training and seasoning that goes into making a veteran copy editor. And, hopefully, you can appreciate why losing just one has a cost that goes beyond missing a friendly, familiar face. Now multiply that by four and cut the time frame in half . We were in a pickle.

With normal attrition, you can count on a number of extra, experienced hands on the desk to help get the new hire up to speed. But from the middle of 2013 to the start of 2014, it seemed every time we got someone started, we’d lose another veteran. It’s hard to rotate duties when there are fewer parts to rotate.

Which brings us to today. In order, we hired Samantha Ricketts in August, Heather Greenfield (September), Kelsey Thomas (January) and Andrea Rectenwald (March). (And Cathy Caudill joined the desk in January.)

These young women had a lot to learn in a hurry to keep up with the demands of the desk. News editor and copy desk chief Ashlee Maddy had to accelerate the training, squeezing months of learning into weeks. Luckily, she had the assistance of the senior editor and designer Steven Gill to help bring then along. (And after that fast-tracked year, we lost Steven, who still sends good vibes even in St. Albans.)

As the saying goes, though, pressure makes diamonds. The new batch of copy editors has more than met the challenge of taking in all the information and assorted nuances associated with the job. Each is coming into her own as an editor and designer.

Sam and Heather have not only mastered the art of section fronts and 1A, but have also survived the gauntlet of “slot editor,” juggling staff and wire stories for placement in the paper, a position a former colleague likened to improvisational jazz. After just over a year on the desk, today is Kelsey’s first day to design Page One. We’re sure she’ll do just fine.

West Virginians share their wild weather pictures

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Blanket of snow on the ground? Can’t go anywhere? Snap a picture! Here are photos shared by West Virginians.

More wild WV weather

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Follow along for live updates from West Virginia’s latest weather emergency, flooding followed by freezing.

Live Blog WV weather

A newspaper is more than just reporters and photographers

Sunday, March 1, 2015
Matt Hindman is the press room manager for Charleston Newspapers.

Matt Hindman is the press room manager for Charleston Newspapers. Photo by Craig Cunningham/Daily Mail

The Oscars ceremony Sunday marked the end of awards season, those winter months where Tonys, Emmys and Grammys are handed out for excellence in the performing arts.

While the productions are frequently panned for their length, and despite efforts to make them more television friendly by putting time limits on acceptance speeches, it’s obvious that these artists and behind-the-scenes professionals are grateful to be recognized in a field that is difficult to break into and harder to succeed in. So it’s only natural that they want to thank everyone who helped get them to the podium.

While to you in your home or office, the paper in your hands is something you read before tossing it into the recycling, here on Virginia Street it’s a production, an album of current events, features and opinion that is created and released every day.

Your paper — or web page — is the result of numerous departments from accounting and advertising down to circulation and three separate newsrooms.

You know some of the newspaper personnel by their bylines or photo credits. Everyone else in the building mostly toils in anonymity. This is what happens when things work like clockwork; they become so dependable you think them as effortless.

Until things don’t work like clockwork. Then you discover that a lot of effort goes into what we like to call “the Daily Miracle.”

Earlier this month our presses suffered what I described to one caller as a “catastrophic failure,” where we could not get the papers out that day. This was easier than having to explain that the paper roll kept tearing as it made its way through the press.

The fact that we could not get any editions out at all was indicative of how difficult a problem our pressmen faced. I’ve seen these guys work and they can MacGyver anything, so I can’t imagine how maddening it was to keep hitting dead ends. The next day, the back of the press room, which is about half a city block long, was chest-deep in discarded paper, a testament to a night — and a day — of frustrated efforts to solve the puzzle.

But they finally got the presses rolling, with a little help from our pre-press and information technology departments. And they’re still working to get the enormous contraption running as smoothly as possible, so you can get that Daily Miracle, your newspaper, in your hands every day.

So for this award-winning production, I’ve got a list of people I’d like to thank.

First, I give a shout-out to our circulation drivers and delivery people who busted their tails to get your newspapers out. I’ll single out Stephen Thomas by name, because he got mine to our house as soon as they were rolling off the press — even delivering in the evening.

I want to recognize our customer service operators who were swamped by a tidal wave of thousands of callers wanting to know where their papers were.

I also say thank you to those subscribers whose calls I answered in the newsroom and who were patient, kind and understanding of our predicament.

Finally, to those fellows in the press room who put this album together: Matt Hindman, Chuck Cantley, Bruce Cox, Ollie Curry, Tom Emmite, Billy Gilmore, Derick Harrison, Larry Hudson, Shawn Kinison, Joshua Moffatt, Robert McNabb, Harold Thomas, Dave Totten, Roy Vealey and Tim Williams.

You guys, with your ink-stained clothes, ear plugs and skinned knuckles, if I could, I’d send you donuts every morning and pizzas every night. Thanks a million for all the hard work you do to make us look good. I’ll even propose an award for you: the Inkys.