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Forum opens communication lines

February 28, 2009
By Wayne Sheets, Contributing Business Writer

Last Saturday, the publisher of The Inter-Mountain invited the public to join him, his editor and circulation manager to an open forum at Unexpected Treasurers. All in all, about 15 people joined the discussion during the hour and a half while enjoying coffee and pastries. It was an interesting 90 minutes - more should have taken the time to attend.

Those in attendance shared concerns and compliments for the newspaper and the community.

The discussion opened with the question of why spelling, grammatical errors and out-of-context words make it onto the printed page. David Shombert of Pineview stated that these errors send "the wrong message" to not only our permanent residents but to our visitors as well, especially those who might be considering our area as a place of permanent residence.

"I am proud of our community and I believe a greater effort should be made to reduce these errors," Shombert said. "I realize, however, and I think everyone does, the stresses reporters and editors are under to meet deadlines, but there should be a better editing process whereby errors of this kind, and in some cases omissions, are corrected. The content of our paper and the way it is written is a direct reflection on the literacy of our community and is the foundation for our visitors' first impression of our community."

Rather than explain away the problem with excuses and reasons - and there are some - Publisher Don Smith agreed that there are too many mistakes. He and Editor Linda Howell Skidmore agreed to increase efforts to eliminate as many as possible.

"We will always make mistakes, no matter how hard we try to eliminate them," Smith said, "I have never written a story that couldn't have been better had I had just 10 more minutes to work on it or a paper published that couldn't have been better had there been just one more hour before deadline. We will do better."

The effect of publishing the image of an individual dressed in the orange garb of incarceration was mentioned.

"That, in my mind, creates an impression that our community is infested with a criminal element that makes it an undesirable place to live," David Denton of Elkins said. "Could not these images, if they have to be published at all, be included somewhere inside the paper rather than on the front page?"

The question was answered by Davis & Elkins College professor of criminology Wally Edgell.

"Research has proven that one of the best deterrents for preventing repeat offenses by individuals is the embarrassment of being seen on the front page of a newspaper dressed in orange wearing handcuffs," Edgell said. "This doesn't work in every case, but for a great many the embarrassment to the individual's immediate and extended family, his church and other social organizations he may belong to is a strong deterrent to repeat crimes."

Smith agreed, adding that every community has a criminal element and that is a part of the news as much as the many other events and subjects that make up rounded and varied reporting of news.

It was also asked if the meeting was an attempt, or the beginning of a series of meetings, to increase circulation.

Smith replied, "That is not the purpose of this or any subsequent meetings we may have. Our purpose today is to hear from those who have concerns of any kind regarding the paper. Our goal is to make it a better instrument by which we can better serve the community by incorporating suggestions made here today or later; that in turn might increase circulation. Subscriptions, however, do not sustain a newspaper - advertising does and every paper in the country is experiencing a downturn in advertising as well as circulation.

"Newspapers are undergoing some major changes today and ours is no exception," Smith said. "The changes we are experiencing are a result of many things, not the least of which is the Internet, a struggling economy and a decline in readership, especially in the younger generations."

"We are very fortunate in our community to have a daily newspaper," said one attendee. "That we have this daily is due in large part because it is the primary printed news source not only in Randolph County but some neighboring counties as well. The fact that we have a hospital that serves a multi-county area and a college is also a huge contributor to the paper's livelihood. The excursion trains and the American Mountain Theater along with the natural beauty of our area are helping our community to become a tourist destination as well. The loss of any one of these would spell disaster to not only the paper but also the community as a whole. The paper is an integral part of the community's livelihood."

To say that all of those who participated in the discussion displayed a remarkable pride and loyalty to the paper is a gross understatement. One of those present had delivered the paper when he was a boy, some 50-plus years ago. He, and all those in attendance, while voicing concerns about the paper, was adamant in their determination to see that it will always be a news and advertising source for the community and surrounding area.

According to Smith, The Inter-Mountain is doing well considering the current economic conditions.

I believe part of the continuing success of The Inter-Mountain's economic health is that our region has not experienced the dramatic economic downturn that many of our larger metropolitan cities have and are continuing to experience.

Leadership West Virginia, a statewide education and leadership development program affiliated with the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce, recently announced the 52 members of its 19th class.

Five individuals from the Elkins-Randolph County and Belington area are among those selected: Michael Cvechko, Allegheny Insurance Services, Robert Dunkerley, Helianthus LLC, Nora Morris, Five 15 Creative, Robert Morris Jr., Elkins Business Consultants Inc., and Dave Shaw, Freedom Bank of Belington.

The eight-month program identifies emerging leaders throughout West Virginia and enhances their knowledge not only of the challenges facing the state, but also the state's unique attributes and diversity.

Recognizing that the cultivation of new leadership is of utmost importance to West Virginia's future prosperity and progress, Leadership West Virginia works to develop and motivate a cross-section of leaders who will use their talents and abilities to inspire others and to foster a new spirit of energy, enthusiasm and vitality throughout the state.



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