Newspaper layout can sometimes leave unintended impressions

Jun 4 2011 - 3:54pm

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Andy Howell
Andy Howell

The juxtaposition of items in newspaper layout can sometimes leave unintended impressions.

Early in my career as editor of an Arizona community newspaper, we covered a late-breaking story on a drug bust that turned out to be the largest ever for the county. There wasn't time to remake the entire front page, so we pulled the original lead story and replaced it. The new lead story on the front page had the screaming headline in large type: "Bust biggest ever." Unfortunately, next to the headline was the unrelated portrait photo of the new rodeo queen.

The community got a big kick out of the side-by-side headline and photo and I took a lot of ribbing. However, the queen's mother was not amused.

Fortunately she could still cut out the photo for her scrapbook, leaving out the offending headline.

Wednesday we had a similar occurrence in the Standard-Examiner, although not of the magnitude of the earlier mishap. Next to a story headlined, "Gawkers at flooding spots creating danger zone," we had a graphic encouraging readers to email us their flooding pictures.

The graphic, referred to as a "call-out," is part of an ongoing effort to interact more with readers and allow for more contributed content.

For the record, we weren't trying to encourage people to disregard the warning of public officials as long as they were gathering photos for the paper. Our intent was for people to share photos of their own backyard and neighborhood where flooding has occurred.

Mea culpa, since I was the one that directed the call-out be used with the latest crop of flooding stories and the governor's tour of Weber County.

WHEN READERS ARE WRONG: I received a phone call Tuesday from a woman who insisted we had the wrong date for that day's paper and we "should admit it." She became frustrated when I politely informed her that Tuesday was May 31, and not June 1 as she believed. After a little back and forth, she mumbled something about the liberal press and hung up.

MAYBE THIS READER IS RIGHT: We get lots of letters and online comments from readers offering suggestions for how government could be more efficient. Some can be a little off the wall, but I haven't seen one like this comment printed in The Journal of Martinsburg, W.V.:

"I live near a deer crossing and they keep getting hit. The county should move the deer crossing sign somewhere else. It is too dangerous for the deer to cross where it is now."

No word on whether or not the county took her up on the idea or not. I wonder if the Utah Department of Transportation knows about this solution.

Andy Howell is executive editor. He can be reached at 801-625-4210 or ahowell@standard.net.

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