Corrections or additions?

This column was prepared for the March 19, 2003 edition of U.S. 1

Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Richard K. Rein: Critiquing the Competition

Journalism 101, Community Newspapers, gathers for the

fourth and final lecture of the spring term. We have discussed what

an editor looks for in a story, how he or she constructs a single

issue, and what factors should be considered in evaluating a

publication

viewed over several weeks or months. Last week we put U.S. 1 under

the microscope and gave it an A overall, with a few points off for

being a little too predictable and falling a little short of its

"U.S.

Fun" alter ego.

This week we conclude with mini-reviews of the rest of papers in our

area. Our position is anything but impartial, and our impressions

are just that, impressions, not scientific data. But the same could

be said of any number of theater critics who have worked at various

papers over the years. It doesn’t stop them and it won’t stop us.

The Times and the Trentonian. We begin with the dailies

that come from a rare city that has two competing daily newspapers.

Recalling last week’s column, in which we noted that newspapers often

have nicknames, we have to report that the Trentonian is still the

Trash-tonian in many minds. Sex, crime, and scandal are the mainstays

of the editorial content of the Trentonian, but the formula seems

to be losing ground just as surely as blue collar workers are being

replaced by computer nerds.

Meanwhile the Trentonian duels with its considerably larger

competitor,

known years ago as Trenton’s Fine. In fact the old Trenton Evening

Times has given up both the evening and the Trenton part of its title

(more insulting to the city of Trenton, in my view, than Trenton State

College changing its name to College of New Jersey). But to its

credit,

the Times of Trenton (as I refer to it) has maintained a decent amount

of municipal and sports coverage. The Times’s lead sports columnist,

Harvey Yavener, has more institutional memory than all the other

sports

writers at all the other papers combined.

Both papers have their weaknesses. The Trentonian, which never shies

away from controversy, nonetheless fills its editorial page with

unsigned,

phoned-in comments from readers — the comments often seem, well,

phone-y. And the Trenton Times now charges by the word for obituaries.

My guess is that some good stories are missed because the survivors

do not want to be bothered by another bill.

The Princeton Packet, also known as the Princeton Package,

produces a dozen different community newspapers through central New

Jersey. Its flagship paper in Princeton has an awkward frequency:

It’s semi-weekly, published Tuesdays and Fridays. It also has an

awkward

coverage area: Princeton Borough and Township, Montgomery, and West

Windsor (and a little of Plainsboro). Nonetheless it delivers a

substantial

amount of municipal and sports news.

The Package includes an arts and entertainment section called Time

Off, which many readers consider the most valuable part of the paper

and which is rivaled only by U.S. 1’s own Preview section. It also

has a biweekly (that’s every other week) business tabloid called the

Princeton Business Journal that seems to drain business coverage from

the regular publication. So why do they publish it? As a stalking

horse ready to move in when and if U.S. 1 falters — that’s my

guess.

The Town Topics, aka the Town Frolics. Despite the

Packet’s

high visibility and expensive look, the free circulation Town Topics

is the paper that has dominated Princeton Borough and Township for

many years. Two years ago the founding family sold the half-century

old weekly to an ad sales representative and her husband, backed by

a few other investors and architect Robert Hillier.

To the credit of the new owners, they have resisted the obvious

temptation

to redesign the entire publication. On the other hand they recently

wrote a long piece about Bob Hillier without even acknowledging his

involvement with the paper — not a sign of journalistic savvy.

And after the President’s Day blizzard Town Topics failed to get its

issue out until Thursday.

The West Windsor-Plainsboro News. Truth in reading: I

started this free biweekly publication ("a driveway paper,"

as some derisively call it) in 2000, after two prior incarnations

of a community paper there went out of business. Despite the obvious

business challenge to this endeavor, I give the new paper high marks

for coverage of school sports and people and for previewing worthwhile

events.

Its municipal coverage would be more consistent if the paper came

out once a week. In the meantime the paper deserves credit for

refraining

from taking sides in the vociferous battles that have been waged in

this outwardly placid suburban environment. In the beginning some

of us at U.S. 1 worried that our little sister would be nothing more

than a collection of bake sale stories. We even gave it a nickname:

The WW-P Snooze. But in fact the paper has not yet covered a single

bake sale. My prediction: The Snooze is a sleeper, and when it fully

awakens it may surprise some people.


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