Routine election coverage needed more

The two biggest stories in November were the Nov. 2 elections and the Iron Bowl.

The Star’s Nov. 3 coverage of the many election contests was routine. The winners of state and local races were reported, with results on Page 1A and box-by-box totals for Calhoun County (Page 3B). That was a real accomplishment, given the narrow window between the availability of returns and the newspaper’s press deadline.

But many things were missing. There were no maps of the state showing how counties voted in the important statewide elections. The various regions in Alabama have often disagreed politically. Did they this year?

The Star’s area coverage included stories on most races, but many of the stories did not include vote totals or percentages, which is like reporting on a football game without giving the score. Of the six short articles about the Alabama House races, only one included vote totals. The story on Alabama House District 39 reported that “Democrat Richard Lindsey carried two of three counties in Alabama House District 39 to defeat his Republican opponent…” It didn’t say which two counties.

There was no reporting on how area residents voted in elections for governor and other state offices. There was no story on voter turnout locally, or how it compared with past elections. There was a headline over some photos, “Election official: Voter turnout higher than usual,” but no story to support the claim.

On the field

The Iron Bowl always stirs the emotions of all football fans and many who watch only that one game all season. The Star’s coverage was solid and exciting. The game stories, by Charles Bennett and Michael Casagrande, reflected the tension of the unlikely rally from way back, giving Auburn an unbelievable victory and a big step toward the national championship game.

The Star’s coverage included 13 of the best football photos the paper has printed this season, seven in vivid color, by Trent Penny and Stephen Gross.

An investigative news story about sports, “Numbers Game,” was interesting and informative. By Ben Cunningham, the article showed the “multi-million dollar price tag for the football program’’ at Jacksonville State, and the $1.95 million gap between football receipts and expenditures in 2009. It compared JSU’s football budgets with other Ohio Valley Conference schools. The story required a good deal of digging. It put JSU’s program in context (Nov. 28, 1A).

More info needed

“Jury verdict nets $4.5 million from hotel owners” was a good story about two men who sued a hotel company for causing them to contract Legionaires Disease from using a hot tub at the Wingate Inn in Oxford, now the Fairfield Inn (Nov. 20, 1A). One of them died. The story, by Patrick McCreless, included a description of the disease and an interview with the claimant. However, vital information was left out.

Readers didn’t learn who the people are who own the hotel. This is a local company, but we have only a faceless corporate name, Devi LLC.

If The Star couldn’t identify the owners locally, the information is available on the website of the Alabama Secretary of State. The story did not indicate whether the $4.5 million awarded by a Calhoun County jury was for actual damages or included punitive damages as well.

Fine coverage

How do you cover another Veterans Day? How do you avoid repetition and write something that is fresh and meaningful? The Star managed it well this year. In three stories, Nov. 10, 11 and 12, The Star brought honor and empathy to the annual ritual of remembering our fallen warriors of the nation’s wars. One story focused on a veteran placing a small flag on the grave of his father, a veteran of World War II and Korea (Nov. 10, 4A).

Another featured interviews with four survivors of Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941 (Nov. 11, 1A). The third story covered the official festivities of Veterans Day in downtown Anniston (Nov. 12, 1A). The stories were by Cameron Steele, with fine Veterans Day photos by Stephen Gross and Trent Penny.

Where are the TV listings?

When The Star dropped its daily primetime TV schedule, readers were assured that the paper would print daily TV highlights. Well, sometimes, and sometimes not. In November, the TV highlights were left out more often than they appeared. We do have daily listings of sports TV programs in the sports pages.

This column was originally published in the Anniston Star on Dec. 3, 2010.

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