Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Charles Owens

September 18, 2013

Whether it is 1896 or 2013, some aspects of traditional journalism never change

— — How do you continue, maintain and improve upon something that started more than 100 years ago? It’s a good question, and something that we ask ourselves on a regular basis here in the newsroom. You see the Bluefield Daily Telegraph is a 117-year-old publication. That’s right. The late Hugh Ike Shott published his first issue of the daily newspaper on Jan. 18, 1896. The newspaper itself was actually founded in 1893. It was a weekly publication before it became a daily newspaper in 1896.

Today, we are charged with continuing the history that began more than 117 years ago. It is a unique responsibility. Our brand is timeworn, known and trusted by the community. There aren’t, after all, that many companies out there that can say they are 117 years old. We are proudly continuing the tradition today that a team of pioneering journalists in our region began more than a century ago.

The old newspaper office — now a local historic landmark in Bluefield — is still standing on Bland Street. Although in the very beginning the newspaper was actually published about one block north of its old Bland Street location in a building that no longer exists.

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A lot has changed over the years in the newspaper business. We are old-school journalists. But we are also new-school journalists. We are print pioneers in a new era of interactive, multi-media journalism. But we are also traditional print journalists. The people responsible for getting your daily newspaper to you each morning — just in time for breakfast. But much has changed. Here is a little behind the scenes glimpse of an average morning for myself, and others, in the newsroom.

• Arrive at the office, turn on the computer, and immediately get to work on updating the newspaper website. This involves perusing through the Associated Press news feed — state stories, national stories and even international stories as of late thanks to the Syria crisis. State stories, particularly those generated out of West Virginia and Virginia, are uploaded to the website. Some of these stories are also promoted on our Facebook page. We know there are certain stories that our Facebook friends are more likely to respond to than others. At the same time, I’m also looking for state, and even national stories, that could be localized by our reporting staff. Videos are also added to our website throughout the day, as well as occasional slideshows of local events and activities. If the news merits it, a breaking news banner is added to the website. And if the story is interesting or big enough, we also may tweet it through Twitter with a direct link to the article.

• Coming up with a morning poll question is often a team effort. It’s not unusual for Editor Samantha Perry to come out of the office and get my opinion on a potential poll question. She is better at coming up with poll question ideas than I am. When it is my turn to come up with the daily poll, I will often turn to Lifestyles Editor Jamie Parsell, who can normally come up with a question that I would never have thought of. The poll questions dealing with politics or national issues are normally my ideas. Once we decide upon a poll, it is then a race to get that poll question uploaded, and also linked to our Facebook page, so that our readers can start voting on the poll bright and early in the morning. The final poll results are placed in the next morning’s print edition.

• Then it is time to send out our morning email news digest. I do this on most mornings as well — and it is probably the most time consuming process of the morning. But it is still a great way to interact with our mobile readers each day. Sadly, the computer will often glitch, lock up or generally be stubborn on more than a few occasions when it comes time to “blast” the email news digest.

• The job doesn’t stop there. Keeping our website and online content fresh continues throughout the day. It’s a responsibility that I normally assume in the morning and afternoon hours. Videos — out of an abundance of caution — must also be previewed (even when they are coming from reliable sources) before they are posted to our website. And we also enjoy interacting with our Facebook readers throughout the day. Yes, we are reading what you are posting. No, we don’t normally like to moderate, delete or restrict posts unless it is absolutely necessary.

But that’s the new-school part of the job. The old-school part of putting out a daily newspaper includes coming up with story ideas and photographs writing those stories and taking those photographs, making police checks, paginating pages, attending meetings and making sure the all-important daily deadline is always met.

An average morning today for the newsroom is quite different from what it was say 10  or 117 years ago. In many ways, the print journalists of today are bridging the gap between the journalists of yesterday and those of tomorrow. While we are continually evolving, we are still steadfast advocates of accuracy, facts, attribution and fairness — the foundation of traditional journalism. That’s something that hasn’t changed over the past 117 years.

Charles Owens is the Daily Telegraph’s assistant managing editor. Contact him at cowens@bdtonline.com. Follow him @BDTOwens.

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