Behind the Star by StarEditorBobDavis
An inside look at the Anniston Star newsroom
Sep 02, 2009 | 5615 views |  0 comments | 25 25 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

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Rural economic development on two wheels
by StarEditorBobDavis
Sep 01, 2011 | 8744 views |  0 comments | 28 28 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

A friend recently shared this link with me. In it Jerry Norquist, the executive director of Cycle Oregon, discusses how cycling events can bring prosperity to small towns. He gave an example of how one coffee shop owner in the small community where he lives reaped large financial rewards when a bike tour came through town.

Norquist says, "Most rural communities already have the assets that they need to promote cycling tourism. They just don’t know how to harness those assets." 

He says one community on its own may have a difficult time reaching the wider cycling audience, but a statewide effort can spread the word. 

With events like this, this and this, a trail like this and a mountain biking venue in the near future, lots of bike riders are familar with our region. The question is: What are the next steps to spread that reputation as a must-ride place? Please share your ideas. 


As its closing nears, Partlow looks for families who donated Bibles to facility
by StarEditorBobDavis
Aug 19, 2011 | 3182 views |  0 comments | 23 23 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

Regina Poole, the director of Community Relations and Volunteers Services at Tuscaloosa’s W. D. Partlow Developmental Center, sends along an interesting request.

The facility, which describes itself as the “remaining state institution for people with intellectual disabilities,” is scheduled to close its doors at the end of September. Before it does, Partlow officials are looking for family members of people who long-ago donated items to the center.

 Poole writes that the center is: “[L]ooking for family members of Mrs. Lewis W. Jackson and Mrs. John R. Sickels. Each has a large, leather bound Bible donated to Partlow for use in the Lurleen Wallace Memorial Chapel in memory of their loved one. We would like to return these Bibles to the family. We are also looking for family members of Miss Minnie Lee Ford, Assistant Director of Nursing (1929-1968) to return a portrait of Miss Fields. Interested family members should call 205-554-4111.”

I asked Poole if she had reason to believe these families might be in The Star’s coverage area. No, she said, “I’m just trying to cover the state to make sure someone in the family (if any, or if any are still in Alabama) know about the Bibles and would like to have them back.” The Bibles were found in Partlow's chapel not long before it was knocked down.

If these family names sound familiar, give Partlow a call. And let the Star know, as well; this sounds like heck of a story.

A defense of Star's reporting on allegations made by councilman
by StarEditorBobDavis
Aug 08, 2011 | 2685 views |  0 comments | 27 27 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

Consider this a defense of Anniston Star reporter Laura Camper. In his most recent column, Anniston Star Media Critic Paul Rilling criticized Camper’s July 6 article, “Little: Plans for judicial complex are troubling.”

Rilling, a former editor with The Star, is an experienced journalist. His monthly column is a useful exercise; it allows an independent voice to weigh on the work of the newspaper.

That said, I must respectfully disagree with his findings regarding Camper’s July 6 article.

Rilling wrote:


A basic rule of news writing is that a news story should “show, not tell.” This means the reporter tells readers what has happened, not the reporter’s or editor’s opinions about it. You don’t write that it was hot yesterday; you write about the temperature, the humidity, comparisons with other years, how people are dealing with it. You show that it was hot.

A July story in The Star, headlined, “Little: Plans for judicial complex are troubling,” told the reader what The Star thinks about Councilman Ben Little’s opposition to the judicial complex (July 6, Page 1A)

In the lead paragraph, it said, “Councilman Ben Little has made a point of questioning the way the proposed judicial complex has moved forward at council meetings and ward meetings, but has made no specific allegations nor offered any proof to back up his claims.”

The article, by Laura Camper, told readers what to think, then went on to support that viewpoint. The story is presented as a front-page news story but no new developments were reported. It made a good case for its point of view, but it belonged in the commentary pages.


In light of this critique, I revisited the article in question. By my count, it contains 29 statements of fact; most of them center on Little’s frequent allegations of wrongdoing on the part of those working on the city’s proposed judicial complex. To date, none of the officials mentioned in the article have challenged any of its facts.


The purpose of the article was to examine Little’s accusations and his failure thus far to provide any evidence for them. Little, an elected official, has repeatedly alleged corruption on the part of the entity charged with overseeing the construction of the judicial center, the Public Building Authority. Little’s allegations have taken place and continue to take place during public sessions of the City Council.


While reporting the article, Camper offered Councilman Little an opportunity to spell out the details of his allegations and produce evidence of them. Little declined, saying, “The PBA board knows what has been done and how things have unfolded.”


Several items are important to keep in mind:


l Little is accusing members of a municipal authority of wrongdoing, the sort that could be a violation of criminal law.


Little’s allegations are made in a public forum, which is aired live on The Star’s website.


Journalists are not stenographers. In its code of ethics, the Society of Professional Journalists writes that reporters should, “Test the accuracy of information from all sources and exercise care to avoid inadvertent error.”


That is what Camper and The Star did in the July 6 article. Quite simply, we asked a public official for evidence of frequently asserted claims. He declined, and we reported that he declined and put his opposition to the project in context. Reporters’ and editors’ personal opinions on Little and his opposition to the judicial complex project were (a.) not voiced and (b.) wholly irrelevant to the article in question.


Despite a diligent search of the story, I can find no support for the claim that The Star told “the reader what The Star thinks about Councilman Ben Little’s opposition to the judicial complex.”


Congressman attributes editorial board’s “world view” as reason for not visiting
by StarEditorBobDavis
Jul 31, 2011 | 2864 views |  0 comments | 26 26 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

(Cross-posted from National Conference of Editorial Writers blog.)

The editorial board of The Anniston Star regularly meets with politicians from local, state and federal offices. During his two terms as Alabama governor, Bob Riley was a frequent visitor to the newspaper. We regularly sit down with Alabama’s two U.S. senators, Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions, as well as other politicians from across the state.

The walls of The Star’s offices are full of snapshots of governors, including George C. Wallace, who when in town would visit with the newspaper’s editorial board. (By the way, Wallace preferred to refer to the newspaper by the derisive nickname “Red Star.”)

During campaign season, the pace quickens as scores of hopefuls come through our doors seeking endorsement.

The meetings can be lively and enlightening, as politicians explain their positions, field tough questions and lay out their visions for the future.

However, one local politician, five-term U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Anniston, has been an infrequent visitor to the newspaper. He’s not visited since fall 2008, though he makes regular visits to other newspaper boards in his district. Before that, his appearances before the Anniston Star board were spotty.

The reason, says his press secretary Shea Snider, is that The Anniston Star editorial board and the congressman have "different world views."

"Every time [Rogers] goes in, it’s a hostile environment," Snider said. "There’s no value to those meetings."

She emphasized that the congressman and his office are always happy to respond to The Star’s reporting staff, as well as to questions from this writer; it’s the editorial board the congressman has a problem with.

It is accurate that the Star's editorial board subjects politicians to tough questions. For its part, the newspaper believes holding the people's representatives to account is part of its First Amendment responsibilities. That standard is applied to politicians across the ideological spectrum.

An informal survey of National Conference of Editorial Writers members via listserve showed that Rogers’ refusal to meet with The Star is out of step with most Washington politicians. Most will meet with local editorial boards.

"Our senators drop in for a visit about once a year," wrote Jackman Wilson, editorial page editor of The Register-Guard in Eugene, Ore. "Our local congressman stops by more often for useful backgrounders on issues of interest to him and to us (and for gossip that is even more useful)."

Editors mentioned that there are exceptions, a few senators and congressmen who for one reason or another refused to darken their doors. It usually has something to do with something written by the newspaper that the officeholder didn't like.

At the NCEW’s 2010 convention in Dallas. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who is now said to be considering a run for president, spoke to members of the NCEW, but refused to take part in the traditional Q&A session following his remarks. Perry’s reason for skipping out on question time was that he had a tight schedule. However, after leaving the stage the governor spent a lengthy session chatting with friends in the meeting room and then carrying on an extended TV interview just outside its doors.

Then-NCEW president Tom Waseleski wrote Perry afterwards, calling the snub "an affront to any notion of civil discourse, such as the kind you have called for on other occasions."

Tom Moran, editorial page editor of New Jersey’s Star-Ledger, described the refusal to meet with editorial boards as folly on the part of politicians. “When these guys choose not to defend their positions, it hardly advances their cause,” he wrote.

Mark C. Mahoney, editorial page editor at The Post-Star in Glens Falls, N.Y., boiled down the reasons a politician might or might not visit with an editorial board. "It all depends on the degree with which you have criticized the individual and that individual's personal degree of tolerance for criticism," Mahoney wrote. "Some can take a little criticism. Some can take a lot. Some can't take any. Those that can't take any criticism have tended not to meet with us."

Bob Davis, editor of The Anniston Star and a member of its editorial board, is secretary/treasurer of the National Conference of Editorial Writers.

Help us police online comments
by StarEditorBobDavis
Jul 06, 2011 | 3868 views |  0 comments | 23 23 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

We continue to work out some kinks with our new Facebook commenting system at

One way readers can help is by reporting inappropriate language in our comments by selecting the “REPORT” button to the right of each comment.

Here's how: Move your mouse to the right-side of the comment  and an “X” appears. Clicking it gives a user the option to “Mark as Spam” or “Report as Abuse” comments that violate our terms of use – no name-calling, no abusive or profane language and no personal attacks.

Doing this will help us better police comments, and that is something that creates a more civil exchange.

 - Bob Davis, Editor 

Unsigned editorials and anonymous comments
by StarEditorBobDavis
Jul 05, 2011 | 6317 views |  0 comments | 25 25 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

As the Star moves to a new commenting system powered by Facebook, several online commenters in the old anonymous system have asked if unsigned editorial opinions of The Anniston Star aren’t covered.

A poster who goes by the handle “FrustratedJoe” asked, “Will that also include the ‘Editorial Staff[?]’” FrustratedJoe goes on to insinuate The Star’s reporters are editorializing in the newspaper’s opinion pages, and closes by wishing for “[n]o more Ghost Writers at the Star.”

Let’s take these questions one at a time.

None of The Stars reporters, meaning the journalists who cover the news, sports and features of our community, write the unsigned editorials that appear under the masthead on the left-hand side of the editorial page.

The editorials represent the institutional opinions of The Anniston Star. Topics range from purely local issues to ones making an impact on our state, nation and world. They celebrate victories. Mourn losses. Offer advice when warranted. Call out serious wrongdoing. Suggest compromises between warring factions. Hold government and large institutions accountable. Encourage us to bigger and better things.

Editorials are written by individuals expressing the collective views of our editorial board. The writers of each editorial are not merely expressing a personal view, but one in line with the paper’s institutional view.

The tradition of unsigned editorials stretches back to the dawn of newspapers. Perhaps history’s most famous editorial, The New York Sun’s “Yes, Virginia” ode to Santa Claus, was published unsigned.  Most newspapers carry on the tradition today.

I like the way my pal and the editorial page editor of the Detroit Free Press Ron Dzwonkowski puts it, “The unsigned editorial is the voice of a concerned community institution, a local business that, in addition to trying to make money, has a mission enshrined in the Constitution to serve as an independent watchdog on government and public policy. The editorial voice – a product of consensus that is not always what the writer would say were he or she speaking as an individual – should carry more weight than an individual's column or blog.”

That is not to say that the feeling about unsigned editorial is universal among newspapers or media watchers.

There has been a small but growing movement to attach names to institutional opinions. For a local example look no further than the Huntsville Times, which includes the names of its editorials’ writers. 

A final word on the changing from anonymous commenting and Facebook: What the change to a Facebook-powered commenting system allows The Star is an opportunity to better police those posters who have misused the site by frequently dealing in name-calling and foul language. Attaching real names and Facebook user profile photos helps, but of equal value from the new system is a more able method of banning users who violate the rules of civil dialogue.


- Bob Davis, editor of The Anniston Star

Point of emphasis on story commenting
by StarEditorBobDavis
Jun 20, 2011 | 1941 views |  0 comments | 22 22 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

The bottom of my Sunday column mentions looming changes in way way commenters can post remarks at the bottom of The Star's online articles. To wit:

The days of anonymous commenting at are rapidly coming to a close. We are currently testing commenting software that would require website commenters to post their first and last names alongside their comments.

This is part of a move to eliminate some of the worst behavior in story comments. In recent months, our editors have had their hands full cleaning up comments that fail to comply with our rules. In short, those rules are no personal attacks, no name-calling and comments must stay on topic.

The subject of online commenting and anonymity has roiled the digital space in recent years. Many publications, particularly newspapers, have pulled back from the free-for-all that was online commenting when the web first became popular. Over time, The Star’s newsroom and others across the country have come to see the commenting section of a website needs more accountability and safeguarding lest it turn into a ghetto of bitterness, personal attacks and angry and offensive language.

The plan is to continue to apply our current rules with a few more added, namely better identification of the person posting the comments. Think of it as the “letter to the editor rule.” Printed submissions to Speak Out must follow our guidelines for style as well as include first and last name, plus hometown. The letters we print are often sharp in their rhetoric, yet they carry the credibility that the writer was willing to attach his or her name and hometown to the opinions expressed. Very soon we intend to apply the same standard to online comments. Expect more details in coming weeks.

The state of Alabama public schools, circa 1916
by StarEditorBobDavis
Jun 20, 2011 | 1504 views |  0 comments | 23 23 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

From How We Are Governed In Alabama And The Nation by Howard Lee McBain and Isaac William Hill (1916 edition).

"The day is not far distant, however, when every child in the state of Alabama may have the opportunity, at least, of securing a splendid education, free of all direct cost to his family, under the patronage and support of the State government."

Calling all bloggers
by StarEditorBobDavis
Jun 20, 2011 | 1594 views |  0 comments | 24 24 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

The Star announced its Community Bloggers project yesterday. 

All the details are here.

My Sunday column explains what we're hoping to accomplish.

Things to do in Atlanta during a football game
by StarEditorBobDavis
Sep 02, 2009 | 3729 views |  0 comments | 34 34 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

Jacksonville State and the University of Alabama both kick off the 2009 football season in Atlanta this Saturday.

JSU plays Georgia Tech in the afternoon. Alabama plays Virginia Tech in the evening.

The Star's John Fleming is working on a story for fans looking to make the trip to Atlanta for one or both of the games. He'll offer tips on driving to the stadiums, taking public transit, where to eat, where to park, where to drink, etc.

Got any tips on driving, tailgating or anything else Atlanta-related? Share them with John at

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