Making changes: The goal is more of the best news coverage

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Those who have been by the Southeast Missourian offices have no doubt noticed the construction taking place at 301 Broadway. Not all of the changes with the newspaper involve the building, however. Here is an update about some other developments.

* For several months, we have been upgrading the quality of special sections and specialty niche publications at the newspaper. This remains a work in progress, and we're barely halfway through the process.

The fundamental change has been transferring nearly all content responsibilities to the newspaper's newsroom. Previously, content for some specialty publications -- like Business Today and TBY: The Best Years -- were managed by various advertising departments. While the content was good, the changes have the goal of making these specialty publications much better: more useful, more informative, more timely, more provocative, more entertaining.

In addition, the changes improve our planning and quality-assurance processes. Now, publications like Business Today, the Newcomers Guide and TBY will go through more levels of editing.

This change in content responsibility also extends to projects like The Cape magazine, which we produce in conjunction with the Cape Girardeau Area Chamber of Commerce and our books like "Faces & Places" and "Heroes."

Feedback about each of these publications has been strong, and I believe readers and customers appreciate the higher quality.

* In order to manage such a range of projects, there has been a reorganization within the news department. Joe Sullivan, editor of the Southeast Missourian, has elevated several reporters to editor of specific publications.

For example, Scott Moyers, business editor, is the new editor of the monthly regional magazine Business Today. Linda Redeffer, feature writer, is now editor of TBY: The Best Years. Linda is also responsible for coordinating specialty publication content as diverse as the Newcomers Guide to Locally Owned Business.

Meanwhile, award-winning journalist Callie Clark Miller is the new features editor, responsible for feature pages like Health, Class of 2Morrow and Religion. Among the exceptions to her responsibilities are the Business section on Mondays and the Arts & Leisure section on Fridays. The Arts & Leisure editor is Matt Sanders, who will soon also be responsible for OFF Magazine, Tipoff and other entertainment-oriented products.

By the way, an Internet poll we have been running indicates that readers overwhelmingly prefer that Arts & Leisure appear in Thursday's paper rather than in Friday's so they can do better planning for the weekend. Look for this change -- along with others concerning this section -- in the next couple of months.

Among other changes in the news department, we have a new news editor. This is the third-highest-ranking manager in the department, after Sullivan and managing editor Sam Blackwell. After a national search, we were pleased to announce that award-winning Southeast Missourian reporter and former sportswriter and Marble Hill editor Bob Miller has accepted this position.

With so much shifting of content responsibilities, the newspaper is hiring new reporters and is still advertising for reporters for the Jackson bureau and to cover city government and courts/law enforcement.

* To enhance local news coverage, we have also decided to close our Jefferson City bureau, which has been ably handled by reporter Marc Powers for the past six years. This was not an easy decision, as we believe reporting on state government is vital to our enterprise. And, Marc has done an excellent job. What makes this change possible is the vast improvement in the Associated Press statehouse coverage over the past several years.

Not long ago, we put the AP, which we relied on exclusively before opening our state bureau, on notice that unless state coverage expanded and improved we would terminate our affiliation with it. Since that time, the AP has reorganized its statewide reporting not only in Missouri but across the nation. This probably had little to do with our notice on an individual basis, but it does underscore that there was a need for improvement. Today, the AP is doing a solid job under chief capital correspondent David Lieb.

I can assure you that the Southeast Missourian will not shy away from state government coverage. But it will generate more government stories from Cape Girardeau rather than from having a reporter covering the state capitol. And we will continue to rely on the Associated Press.

Sadly, with the closing of the Jefferson City bureau, we will be losing an esteemed colleague. Although he was offered a position here in Cape Girardeau, Marc Powers has chosen to pursue other opportunities. Marc has a deservedly high reputation in Jefferson City and is highly regarded throughout the Rust newspaper group. On numerous occasions, he has also stepped into temporary roles in Cape Girardeau and elsewhere as needed, including serving as managing editor here and editor at our sister newspaper in Nevada, Mo. In each role, he has done an outstanding job. We are happy that he plans to stay with us until mid-September. We wish him the best.

As you can see, there are many changes taking place at the newspaper. The goal, above all, is to serve you better by improving and expanding local coverage. If you have any comments or suggestions on what else we can do, don't hesitate to drop me a line.

Jon K. Rust is publisher of the Southeast Missourian. E-mail: jrust@semissourian.com. Telephone: (573)335-6611.

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