Keeping a good story in publication

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Have you heard that the city’s new boat ramp opened? No really. It’s true. It’s been in all papers. Especially this one. A lot.

There was a running joke in our newsroom last week about the opening of the ramp. Finally, it opened. Yes, it’s a great facility, a double-wide concrete angled driveway to the Blackwater River, lots of room to maneuver once the boat is dismounted from the trailer, an asphalt parking lot, plenty of parking. And even — wait for it — plastic toilets placed as part of the, um, landscape.

But the construction of the ramp hit a snag or two along the way before it finally opened last week.

That’s not the point. Sometimes newspapers play the part of the little boy who cried wolf. The wolf, in this case, was the opening of the boat ramp. &uot;Wolf,&uot; we cry (and amplify in a headline) and the townspeople take notice. &uot;Wolf delayed&uot; we cry the second time (again, in headline form) and the townspeople groan. &uot;Wolf’s arrival back on schedule despite delays&uot; is the third cry (and headline) and readers begin to wonder if we know anything.

Often, newspapers latch onto stories, and sometimes those stories take turns we’d rather not report. However, we have no choice. Stories take twists and shouts that cannot be controlled.

Well, here’s what happens: Even newspapers are human, at least humans sit on the other side of the keyboard trying to sort out all the information that comes our way, determining what should be passed along to the reading public and to what degree. It’s a constant dialog. An imperfect science, to be sure, but one that has to be handled as best we can.

There is an easy and obvious parallel. Watch the cable news networks and monitor their lead stories. There is an ebb and flow, or story life, to most topics. What’s hot today is irrelevant tomorrow.

On a similar scale, that happens at community newspapers. And the city’s boat ramp is a good example of that.

Is it the most important story of the day? Certainly not. What liability coverage a municipal government chooses from its insurance carrier is of greater consequence. We’re talking about the health and well-being of a person. How property taxes are assessed is considerably more important, too. But try photographing either of those news items from an airplane and they lose a little, well, umph.

The boat ramp is visible and shows visual and public progress.

Yes, it would have been more convenient for this newspaper if the boat ramp construction went off without a hitch (sorry about that pun). We could have reported how the ramp opened on time and how a Carrsville family put their boat in the Blackwater, took the kids water-skiing near the Chowan Basin (apologies to the Andes Family) and all was perfect in the world. The city would have been even happier if that was the case. But it didn’t happen.

Instead, &uot;Wolf&uot; was cried. Nevertheless, the boat ramp opened and the townspeople were happy.

PAUL McFARLANE is the editor of The Tidewater News. His e-mail address is