The talking newspaper

This is a story about how my local paper talked to me.

I used to watch the news in the morning. I don’t any more. Partly for silence, partly for control. I can’t handle the chatter, I want to decide what I read.

I do, on the other hand, check twitter almost every morning. I don’t follow very many people. So at 6:15 on Tuesday morning, the 6:00 am tweets from our local evening newspaper were still easy to find.

Early every morning,  the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel (@newsentinel) tweets four or five articles to the 73 of us who are paying attention. Each tweet is a link to the article on the paper’s website.

Note that I said that this is an evening paper. Fort Wayne has a morning paper as well. But the evening paper has new articles online by 6:00am. And others by 10:00.

Tuesday morning, one tweet in particular caught my attention.

So I read the article about a couple expecting a baby, knowing that the child has Down syndrome and a hole in its heart. (article here) It’s a great article about a caring family, written thoughtfully.

Except for one sentence:

“Doctors told them the baby could have trisomy 18, caused by three copies of the 18th chromosome. It is incompatible with life.”

Because our daughter Kathryn was born with trisomy 18 and lived for five weeks, I knew that the sentence was wrong.

By 6:45 am, I had written an email. It was a letter to the editor, copied to Jennifer Boen, the reporter. It’s probably my second letter to the editor, and my first letter to a reporter. But the accuracy of this sentence mattered to me.

And then I went to work.

By 1:15 pm, I had an email back from Jennifer. She was very gracious, explaining why she had written what she had written, acknowledging that the language could have been different, showing sympathy for our situation. I wrote back. She wrote back.

It was a nice conversation.

(A doctor had given her the information about trisomy 18, and it is deadly and people who have that extra chromosome die young, sometimes before birth. And it was a only a stop on the ride to the point of the article.  I understand.)

About 4:30 pm, the newsprint version of the newspaper showed up on our front step. I’m guesing that it was delivered by our regular carrier and her mom. Though she is in her teens, her mom always follows because our carrier is working with her own physical and mental challenges. I’ve never asked. I say “thank you” when I see them, I once signed “thank you” and received a smile.

There are, it seems, two stories here. One is the story of an article about a family treasuring life appearing in a paper delivered by a girl whose life is treasured to a family that lost such a child and that has Hope. That story, though almost invisible to most people, is significant.

The other story is about a newspaper taking baby steps to make itself more valuable to the people of its community using social media. There are, I know, only 73 of us following @newssentinel. (There may be more after this post). But think about this: a reader and a reporter had a significant interaction about a published article in the paper…before the newprint was delivered.

I know that papers are closing. I know that they are trying everything. I know that the twittering by this paper in this comparatively small market may be someone’s little experiment.

But real stories about real lives connected real people. Jennifer and I interacted. It makes me proud of my newspaper, for good writers and for trying new things. Before it’s too late.


6 responses to “The talking newspaper

  1. Just wanted to let you know that I read your article with great interest and want to thank you for your insights. This is a great example of citizen journalism and serves to remind me why people have such an affinity for the daily local newspaper…real life human interest stories that help us to not feel so alone in times of sorrow and grief. Such stories confirm to me that even if newsprint goes away, there will always be an interest and need in a digital alternative. God’s blessings on you and your family!

  2. Good story, Jon. I’ve shared it with a couple of my Houston Chronicle twitter buddies, and they enjoyed it too. Even sent it to a Facebook friend who edit’s a small town weekly.

    Always enjoy reading what you have to say — and it blesses me.


  3. Thank you, Rick. You point well to the value of stories and people.

    Jim, thanks for the sharing. I appreciate it!

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  5. Jon,

    On behalf of The News-Sentinel, I thank you for this post. Newspapers and other media tend to get singled out most often when there’s a complaint or criticism attached. Sometimes, it’s hard to tell if we’re reaching people in a good way. I can only speak for the staff I know, but the truth is, we really do care. And we thrive on the interaction about which you write. Just as you appreciated the conversation with Jennifer, your words will fuel us to keeping working.

  6. Thanks, Melody. I’m glad to watch you all working on conversation, on and offline. It is encouraging.