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Readers give the new editor an earful

Richard Somerville, Editor
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Last week, I introduced myself as the new editor of The Union and asked for your insights in understanding my new community. As I begin a regular Saturday column, I thought I would share some of the comments I received.

Many people expressed the pride they have in the place where they live. “You have chosen well,” said one correspondent. “Nevada County is the most amazing, diverse, inspiring, spiritual, artistic, musical, historic, creative resource imaginable.” I’m already getting a sense of this depth, and I look forward to learning more.

And it’s a changing community, perhaps akin to Marin County in the 1960s and 1970s, observed one man who is using technology to maintain a long-distance commute to the Bay Area. He noted that growth is inevitable, and managing it is controversial. I have noted that much of the contentious debate in the county is about development issues, and The Union intends to maintain a close focus on these topics.



Many people offered their suggestions for ways the newspaper could improve its content. A woman said her idea of a great front page would be to have more local news and less news about people. That might be tough, as people have a way of getting into the local news. Rather than news about people, she suggested more features about animals. I agree that everyone loves animals (I have a few at home myself), so please note that yesterday’s Union features not only a cute dog, but a couple of humongous fish.

A gentleman informed me that Nevada County is the whitest county in the state, and suggests The Union do more in-depth reporting about the experience of racial and social minorities here. I agree, and we will be alert for chances to do so.




This person also said the newspaper should be the vehicle by which we really get to “know” political leaders and candidates as people, but that much of The Union’s coverage seemed to be summarizing meetings and press releases. That’s changing as we roll out in-depth profiles on the top local candidates and issues starting next week.

Another relative newcomer wrote me that newspapers such as The Union are left to carry the flag of independent reporting now that so many other newspapers have been swept up by conglomerates. This is one reason I was attracted to this newspaper: It is owned by Swift Newspapers, a small, family-owned chain that is committed to maintaining papers that are strong, independent voices in their communities.

Quality always is a concern of an editor, and one man wrote that he was troubled by stories that are inaccurate, or are too lightweight and unclear. We are attacking this problem by instituting some new processes designed to give us more time to write, report and fact-check. This should put us on track to ensuring that readers see us as a credible news source.

Several readers warned me of the contentious nature of the local political debate. One said my picture reminded him of “the old Rough Rider,” Teddy Roosevelt, and told me to keep my eyes open, because the county needs a sharp-eyed editor to “keep us all honest.”

One couple from Penn Valley worried that The Union gives too much voice to the extreme ends of the political spectrum rather than the 60-70 percent of residents in the middle of the bell curve. I said in last week’s column that I hoped the editorial page of The Union could be common ground for all views, and that some of those middle-of-the-curve folks would feel more comfortable with joining the debate.

But one man sees the editorial page as the modern equivalent of Christians versus the lions: “Yes, there are some letters that are horribly written, and some are downright meaningless, but that’s the fun. It’s part of the sport of reading the letters, to see people torpedo themselves.”

As another reader said, “I think Nevada County deserves a high-quality paper – no puff, no fluff, just real local news presented in a balanced and accurate way.”

Amen from here, and your feedback is helpful in telling us how we’re doing. This week, the Reader Board organized by former editor John Seelmeyer held its last meeting and offered suggestions on how the next panel could have more of an impact. Many thanks to Margaret Clotsworthy, Jack Fortner, Robert Hartley, Sue Glassco, Teresa Carrigan, Lee Blakemore and Adele Blackwell for hanging in there and giving us feedback. We’ll be seeking participants for the next Reader Board soon.

Richard Somerville is editor of The Union. His column appears on Saturdays.


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