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Charleston Daily Mail: An education in the news continues

For Mother’s Day last year, I received no flowers or jewelry.

Instead my children came up with a sign of encouragement.

As I prepared to leave my job as editor and publisher of the Charleston Daily Mail, I had a vague plan for freelance work.

So they bought me an all-in-one machine that prints, copies, faxes and scans. For the first couple of months I avoided the thing, which conjured up a concern about post-Daily Mail life.

I would be leaving behind my computer-savvy office manager, Tina Taylor, and a saintly techie named Jenny Lilly in the IT department.

Who would help me through the inevitable glitches?

I could call on my grown children and son-in-law, but they lead busy lives. I knew I needed to step up.

The day came when I really needed to use that machine. I clumsily grasped its functions one by one. I’ve even cleared paper jams, which I caused, and replaced ink cartridges. Go me.

As I look back on the past year, those were baby steps.

Now I’m working from home on my computer. Each weekday morning I rise between 6 and 7 a.m. and spend the next few hours scanning newspapers statewide for the West Virginia Press Association.

The association was formed long ago to further the business and editorial interests of the state’s 22 daily and 59 weekly newspapers.

This is no small undertaking.

It provides its members with staff training, legal advice and advertising sales assistance. It monitors legislation that could affect news coverage or newspaper business operations.

Don Smith, a Northern Panhandle native with 25 years of West Virginia newspaper experience, took the helm of the association two years ago.

One of his goals was to transform its website. He envisioned a dynamic information hub that would provide resources to members and showcase their content.

That’s where I came in. Don called last fall to ask if I would take on the content posting job.

This means scouring member websites for good stories, editorials and photos for wvpress.org and the association’s Facebook page. The association also has a Twitter account, so he asked me to “tweet” on its behalf.

At my old job, other Daily Mail staff members did the online posting. So when Don called, my posting skills were sketchy.

Now I’m a few more baby steps down the path. The mechanics of posting no longer intimidate me. But my real education is coming in another arena.

After 36 years at the Daily Mail, I thought I knew the state’s newspaper industry fairly well.

Now, as I explore the papers each day, I’m getting an in-depth look.

It’s a daily treasure hunt, even on a slow news day.

One day last week, for example, The Daily Athenaeum, West Virginia University’s student newspaper, editorialized against a Morgantown pet store’s rent-a-duck program. The enterprising staff even ran a photo of a cute little duckling in the palm of someone’s hand.

Morgantown’s Dominion Post is a must read. It sends a reporter to Charleston for the two-month legislative session each year, a major investment of precious resources.

But its staff doesn’t throw back the little fish. In March the DP reported on the arrest of a local lawyer discovered dangling from a rope that had entangled his arm as he tried to rappel from a downtown building.

Good newspapers develop expertise in areas of high relevance to their readers. The Wheeling paper is an example.

The Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register’s Casey Junkins covers the booming gas drilling industry. His reports run the gamut, from major investments to environmental concerns.

He recently chronicled the “Superload,” a de-ethanizer 41 yards long, as it moved through Marshall County, drawing out hundreds of townspeople to watch.

However, equally irresistible was Wheeling’s recent story about 135 local teens who had organized a hide-and-squirt game.

The kids were jumping from behind houses and bushes to douse each other, and the police chief feared they would surprise someone who didn’t realize their toy guns weren’t real.

When major stories break, newspapers pull out the stops. That was the case with both Charleston papers during the water crisis.

As the Daily Mail and Gazette focused on the main story, other state papers covered bottled water donations and the vulnerability of their own water systems. Most took strong editorial positions on the regulatory gaps revealed by the crisis.

On wvpress.org, I post the first few paragraphs of stories followed by links to the newspaper websites. The goal is to create a showcase and drive some online readers back to the member sites.

As an editor, I like the creativity involved in spotting good stories and displaying them well. It’s great to see newspapers alive and well across the state.

When the daily posting is finished, I turn away from the computer and pick up my print editions of the Daily Mail and Gazette.

That’s when I see how much I’ve missed in skimming websites.

Online reading is great but no substitute for one of mankind’s most convenient products.

Nanya Friend retired last year as editor and publisher of the Daily Mail.


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