Corrections or additions?
This column was prepared for the March 12, 2003 edition of U.S. 1
Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Richard K. Rein: On Judging a Newspaper
Our series on community journalism continues: Lesson
1 concerned how to get an article ready for publication. Lesson 2
was how to arrange a group of articles into several discrete sections
that make up an entire newspaper. Now the penultimate class (that’s
right, this has turned into a four-part series) on how to judge a
newspaper over the course of time, and whether or not this paper
up to the standard.
First a disclaimer: What makes one newspaper good or even excellent
is not what makes another one excel. We at U.S. 1 have a wonderful
calendar of events. But the lack of such a calendar in another paper
is not necessarily a weakness in that paper, just as our failure to
have a comics page or a sports section does not diminish the overall
quality of our paper.
And in judging any paper, you have to read more than a single issue.
With the possible exception of the New York Times or Washington Post,
most newspapers today are not big enough to show off all their
(or weaknesses) in any single issue. Drop three or four issues in
a row down on the kitchen counter and peruse them — that will
usually tell the tale.
When I force myself off the treadmill to review this paper, I compare
it to a chef-owned and operated restaurant. It’s not a huge,
renowned venue like Lutece. It’s also not a chain — it’s no
When it started in 1984 I would have compared it to Roberta’s in the
Princeton Shopping Center. At the best of those chef-owned restaurants
you expect to be greeted at the door by a maitre d’ who at least half
recognizes you as a regular customer. You expect the service to be
efficient and the menu to include both some standard items that are
always rewarding as well as a few innovations that may or may not
be to your liking, but that are worth trying. You wouldn’t be
if the management some night let a piano player or a jazz combo play
in the background. At the end of the evening, if you lingered over
a Sambuca, you would see the chef-owner come out of the kitchen, a
little gritty from the evening’s work, and join you at your table
for a few minutes.
Here at U.S. 1, our Between the Lines column on page 2 does a good
job as the maitre d’, and our Survival Guide section, Preview, and
Life in the Fast Lane are the standard fare that readers can count
on — and get good value for their money (in this case their
time spent). At the end of the evening, the old man comes out from
the kitchen and joins us in this column.
And U.S. 1 gives you the occasional special event: the Business
the U.S. 1 Calendar, and the Summer Fiction issue come to mind.
But in my perhaps overly critical view we have not done so well with
the innovative items that pop up on the menu at the best of the
restaurants. In our case it’s the occasional story that comes in from
left field that no other paper is in position to print. Over the years
we have had some: The profile of the Menendez brothers; an unusual
survey of the funeral industry; a woman’s battle with breast cancer;
a mother’s account of the death of her son.
Lately the paper has been consumed by the standard fare, necessary
but not sufficient — in my opinion — to earn greatest raves
from the readers.
What’s happened? In part producing the standard fare has become more
difficult. If 15 years ago we shortchanged the calendar listings to
tackle some difficult special subject, no one would have cared; today
we believe the minimum standard is much higher. And we crank it out
every week, as opposed to once a month or every two weeks when some
of those landmark stories mentioned above were printed.
Over the years helpful suggestions to writers become ironclad rules.
I can imagine a chef telling one of his assistants not to use a
spice in a certain dish — no garlic on lamb, he might say. Years
later a bright new sous chef comes on board with a recipe that
garlic on lamb in some novel combination. His idea is immediately
rejected — no garlic on lamb.
Around here I cringe at the "rules" I have heard attributed
to me. Why doesn’t anyone remember Rule No. 1 — that rules are
meant to be broken. Writers still ask me how many words I want a story
to be: The answer they are looking for is 950 (this column’s word
count) or 1,400 (the count of the directory fraud article on page
8 of this issue). My answer is whatever it takes to tell the story
effectively — if it goes over 6,000 words let me know so we can
order more newsprint.
In many towns across the country readers give their newspapers
Some people used to refer to U.S. 1 as "U.S. Fun." Putting
the fun back into U.S. 1 is part of the challenge. As this paper was
going to press, Barbara Fox and Nicole Plett kicked around the ideas
from this column. Then they turned their attention to the headline
on page 1. A first draft referring to "non-trad" music was
replaced by what you see now: "When Irish Eyes Are Scowling."
Please read the story to understand the reference to scowling. But
remember Rule No. 2: Don’t let the facts get in the way of a good
The members of the Princeton Regional Chamber of
and the Princeton Community suffered a great loss with the passing
of Mr. Jack O’Leary. As a long-serving board member of the Chamber
of Commerce and a former chairman of the board, he was the catalyst
for many of the programs that the Princeton Chamber has presented
throughout the years.
Jack had an uncanny ability to develop and successfully launch unique
events that brought the business community together with the community
as a whole. He worked tirelessly to organize events celebrating the
American Bicentennial, the Bicentennial of the Treaty of Paris, and
Princeton University’s 250th anniversary.
Jack O’Leary was the founder of the long-standing Albert Einstein
Memorial Lecture Series sponsored each year by the Chamber of Commerce
to bring a noted Nobel Laureate to the Princeton community. He also
founded the Chamber’s Zenger Lectures and Kilgore Lectures. Mr.
vision was also instrumental in founding the Free Enterprise
Chris Tarr, a former chair of the Princeton Regional Chamber of
recently commented that, "we’ve had no better dreamer, creator,
or questioner of the status quo than Jack." His contributions
to the Chamber will not be forgotten, and it will be our legacy to
continue the service to the community that he so passionately believed
in. Jack O’Leary led by his good example, hard work, and creative
ideas. He will be missed.
Chairman of the Board
Kristin S. Appelget
President and CEO
Thanks to F.R. Rivera for covering the "Altered
Books: Spine Bending Thrillers" exhibition at Rider University
( February 26). I thought you had many good reads on the exhibit.
However, while I appreciate the Duchampian reference, I would like
to clarify the work.
What may appear to be paper glued onto saw and hammer handles is
made solely from laminated and hand-carved book pages. I realize this
is very subtle, but in "Against the Grain (Toni Morrison)"
and "Power Tool (Susan Sontag)" there is no wood underneath
the paper. The handles for these text-tools are made completely from
altered book pages. This difference is everything to me and a reward
for careful readers. In that light, the books and tools are analogous,
as empowering extensions of the human body grasped out of a desire
to rework our physical and/or intellectual terrain.
I hope this alters your perception.
Department of Art & Design, University of Idaho
shredded Bibles and self-help books (sans the straps and snaps).
Corrections or additions?
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