L.M. Boyd retires

Question: What happened to L.M. Boyd's column? -- Lee Coppess, Hayden Lake

Answer: Boyd has chosen to retire, for the second and what he says is the final time. His last trivia feature was published in The Spokesman-Review on Aug. 7. -- Gary Graham, managing editor

Why inconsistency with credentials on letters signatures?

Question: I'm wondering why The Spokesman-Review has changed its policy regarding personal titles in the "Letters" column. I've had friends with Ph.D.s have their credentials dropped, while you still recognize the titles of military men or even, in one case, of someone with a dental degree. What changed the policy, and why is there apparent preference given to men? Seems to me you should use whatever title the writer submits, or eliminate ALL titles. -- Carol Sloan, Spokane

Answer: Apparently we have a consistency problem to work on, possibly owing to recent changes in the personnel and procedures involved in handling letters to the editor. Generally, our policy is, or should be, as follows: The basic signature block will include the writer's name and town of residence. Additional information, such as an academic credential or organizational office, will be included only if it is materially important to the presentation of the letter.

Ah, you ask, what in the heck does "materially important" mean? Good question. Let's say a physician writes a letter talking about the incubation period for a particular disease. It would be appropriate to include "M.D." after the name. If the letter is about city budget decisions, we wouldn't include the credentials. None of this should result in any disparity based on the gender of the writer. -- Doug Floyd, editorial page editor

Why was headline changed on letter to the editor?

Question: On Aug. 13, 2004, I submitted a letter to the Editor. I titled my letter, "Where Is The Personal Responsibility?" The letter was printed Aug. 20. The title was changed to, "Help's available in hard times." I would appreciate knowing why titles are changed and by whom? Changing the title to the letter changed my intended context completely. It is so frustrating to see so many editorials and opinion pieces always blaming "society" and not indicating how many bad choices by individuals lead to difficult times in one's life.

I would like to thank the person who made the appropriate change from "inferring" to the correct "implied" in the last sentence. -- Doris Pannell, Coeur d'Alene

Answer: Headlines are written by our staff as part of the page layout and copy editing process -- just as with news stories, columns and editorials written by staff members. There are a variety of reasons for this, among them the difficulty in making headlines fit the space available. This is standard practice throughout the industry. -- Doug Floyd, editorial page editor

Was that photo doctored?

Question: I e-mailed a letter to the editor on this subject a week ago. Not too surprising that it wasn't printed. But still I think that the doctored photo on Page 4 of the Aug. 12 edition needs some explaining. Or, if there has been some acknowledgement of it which I've missed, in which issue might I find that? -- Del Cameron, Coeur d'Alene

Answer: The letter was not printed because once an issue is addressed in our Accuracy Watch column we put an end to that discussion. The photo was not doctored. Our pre-press department, which prepares digital images for reproduction on the press over-corrected the photo in an effort to produce better contrast. The result was an "over-pixelization" that produced the effect some people assumed was layering of separate images to produce a single false image.

Our photo staff retrieved the original photo from the Associated Press and, with the assistance of AP, confirmed its veracity. In addition, a second wire service moved a photo taken by a different photographer of the same scene at about the same instant and that image shows the same figures in the same position.

It is a sign of the cynicism attendant to the war in Iraq that both pro- and con- sides seize on this photo as evidence of one plot or another. This was simpy a technical mistake made in the production process. -- Steve Smith, editor

Take a look at Kerry bashers

Question: Why don't you do a story about dirty politics and George Bush's attempt to smear John Kerry? Take a look at this link. -- Barbara Rueppel, Spokane

Answer: See previous answer, please.

There seems to be no pleasing either side on this. Kerry's military record is, or ought to be, subject to intense scrutiny. After all, he has made it a centerpiece of his campaign. We've run stories on the scrutiny and the debate and on accusations that the president's campaign organization is behind the most egregious smears. But unless we run a definitive story saying one side is right and the other wrong, we're doomed to anger both sides. There was some excellent coverage on the issue in the national press over the weekend, including an outstanding column by a Chicago Tribune editor who was with Kerry the day he won his Silver Star. We're seeking permission to reprint that piece. Perhaps it will answer the questions of readers who still have an open mind on the subject. -- Steve Smith, editor

Investigate Kerry, too

Question: Several months ago you ran a front page investigative report on the allegations that George Bush had failed to report to duty while in the Air National Guard. This report was run in The Spokesman-Review, despite the fact that these same charges had been widely discussed during the 2000 election, finding no evidence supporting the claims.

We now have serious allegations disputing John Kerry’s claims of his Vietnam tour. Are you going to offer a similar front page investigative report outlining the charges made against John Kerry? And if you do not have plans to do so is it because of the political leanings of the publisher and the editors of this newspaper; or is there some other specific reason for failing to provide balanced reporting? -- Bruce Redding, Spokane

Answer: John Kerry's record is certainly fair game for debate. President Bush's record would be fair game, too, would the military and White House truly open up the records of his service. Our story attempted to piece together critical details of the President's service that cannot be obtained through records because many of those records have been misplaced or destroyed. Questions remain.

Questions about John Kerry's record are arguable precisely because his service record is open to inspection and review. We've reported on the recent attacks on Sen. Kerry's service and we've reported on his responses. Until all of the records dealing with the President's service are made available, similarly informed debate is not possible.

As to the political leanings of the paper and the publisher...our editorial board has yet to decide on a presidential endorsement for 2004. I can't predict at all who we might endorse. The paper did endorse candidate Bush in 2000. The news staff's political leanings are not known to me. We don't discuss them in the newsroom and all news staffers are prohibited from engaging in any political activity. -- Steve Smith, editor

We apologize for headline errors

To our readers:

The headlines accompanying the story "Sacred Heart to lay off 174" in print editions of The Spokesman-Review on Tuesday, Aug. 17, are both inaccurate and insensitive. Hospital employees affected by the staff reductions are being laid off, not furloughed as stated in the headline. Their jobs will not be restored.

The statement that "hospital execs cite deadbbeat patients as reason for layoffs" also is incorrect. Hospital executives never used such a term to describe indigent patients.

Headlines are written by copy editors, not by reporters. The editors responsible for today's Page 1 headlines made a mistake.

The Spokesman-Review apologizes to Sacred Heart Medical Center officials and employees and to our readers for the inaccurate and inappropriate headlines. -- Steve Smith, editor

Why cover Idaho troops but not Washington's?

Question: Why did the paper not send reporters to Fort Lewis when the 81st brigade trained to go to Iraq, but you'll send them all the way to Texas to do stories on guardsmen who are not from Washington. -- Peter G. Borg, Spokane

Answer: Actually, we did spend a bit of time at Fort Lewis. But our ability to cover the military is all about access. Due to limitations imposed at the unit level, we had less access at Fort Lewis. We've been given greater access to the units of the 116th Combat Cavalry. Furthermore, we're proceeding with plans to send a reporter and photographer from our Coeur d'Alene bureau to Iraq with the 116th. (We had been embedded with a Spokane medical support unit at the beginning of the war in 2003. But the unit's deployment was canceled at the last moment, so we stayed home).

The Spokesman-Review serves thousands of readers in North Idaho. Many of the soldiers being deployed are the sons and daughters of our readers. Telling their stories does not in any way diminish the service of Washington units and does, in fact, serve to honor all troops engaged in Iraq. -- Steve Smith, editor

What about Idaho news?

Question: Since The Spokesman Review supposedly serves North Idaho, why don't you publish the percipitation for Coeur d'Alene and area instead of just the Spokane rainfall. There is quite a difference between the two areas. Also, why are all the letters in the Handle about Spokane issues? Why not publish letters dealing with issue about North Idaho? -- Susan Purdy

Answer 1: Thanks for the suggestion on rainfall totals. Adrian Rogers, the editor who handles our weather packages, is checking with our provider, AccuWeather, to determine if differences support a separate report for Coeur d'Alene. If so, we'll add that feature, although we'll probably have to drop something else to make room. -- Steve Smith, editor

Answer 2: Actually, we run the same letters in all editions, no matter where they're from. We do run letters from Idaho and elsewhere in our circulation area -- as long as we get them. We have more Washington readers than Idaho readers, so there are more Washington letters. In addition, Washington voters are facing more contested races than Idaho voters are, making them more energetic about letter writing at present. However, we're eager to get letters from all of our readers, and we apply the same criteria to all. -- Doug Floyd, editorial page editor

What's the deal with 'Prickly City?'

Question: I’m not a cartoon reader, but I heard the uproar about “Prickly City” and, of course, checked it out. It’s not a cartoon; the man can’t draw a bean. It’s a political column masquerading as a cartoon. Someone at The Spokesman-Review doesn’t understand the background on this.

Years ago, Doonesbury was removed from the cartoon page as being a political column masquerading as a cartoon. Later came Mallard Fillmore. Cartoon readers noted the unfairness and complained. The decision was made to link Mallard and Doonesbury and send them to editorial page, and now they’re floating around the S-R galaxy, linked liked bad children. We all thought that was fair.

Now someone has slipped in another political column called Prickly City onto the cartoon pages, and the balance of the S-R galaxy is once again out of balance. Rather than be labeled a front for the right wing, shouldn’t you remove Prickly City or add another left wing cartoon/political column? What happened to the fairness doctrine? Have recent personnel changes tipped the S-R to the right? -- George Thomas, Spokane

Answer: I picked up Prickly City - as did a couple of hundred other editors - before it actually launched and on the basis of about one-month's worth of preview and test strips. Most of us picked it up because there is little out there like it. Socially conservative strips are very, very rare.

The test strips I saw were far more gentle and, frankly, funny, than the strip we've seen since launch. At the time, I likened it to a somewhat conservative "Pogo," a classic strip, now gone, that featured gentle social satire.

We're going to give Prickly City a bit more time, a couple of weeks, to see how it develops. After that, we have a couple of options. I'm leaning toward dropping it daily, or secondarily, moving it to Classifieds to replace Mallard Filmore which I don't think is very good. But we'll likely keep it Sunday where it does balance Doonesbury.

To the larger point, I don't believe that comic strips must be socially or politically balanced panel for panel. For one thing, that sort of juggling act simply isn't possible with some strips straying occasionally into politics or social issues and taking readers -- and editors -- by surprise (see recent forays into the culture wars by such non-political strips as Funky Winkerbean and even For Better or Worse). In general, I do believe we must strive for balance as best we can throughout the paper, trying to respect the widest range of views. In these times, with passions running as hot or hotter than I've ever experienced, the juggling act is becoming tougher and tougher.

As to whether or not we're leaning more to the right --- we hear far more from people who think we're leaning further to the left. Isn't it just a bit absurd, and frankly silly, to generalize about a newspaper's bias on the basis of a comic strip? As editors, all we can do is try our hardest to walk the line as we see it, relying on our best judgment, our professional values and ethics. -- Steve Smith, editor

Wants more Valley news in Valley section

Question: As I recall, the Section B in The Spokesman-Review had been called
"The Region" or "Region" for several years. Why was the heading for
this section changed to read "Valley", within the past couple of years?
This section does cover news for several counties in Idaho, Montana and Washington.
I am a resident of Spokane Valley. Renaming it "Spokane Valley"
would be more appropriate if it would contain news only for the City of
Spokane Valley and the surrounding area of Spokane County. -- Omer S. Olson, Spokane Valley

Answer: The Spokesman-Review Valley edition launched in September 2002. At that time, we added reporters and photographers to our Valley bureau and increased, substantially, the amount of daily news coming out of the Valley, particularly news of local government, public schools and public safety. The Valley editor is Jeff Jordan, a lifetime Valley resident.

The "Valley" designation on the top of the local news page doesn't suggest that the section will contain only Valley news. After all, Valley residents are citizens of the larger metro area, state and region, too, and want news from other places But we do "zone" into the section Valley stories that might not run in our Spokane city edition or our Idaho edition. There will be stories in those editions that do not run in the Valley. Some days the number of "swap" stories is low -- that's surely the case during the slow dog days of summer. But some days we swap several Valley only stories and news briefs into the Valley edition. Meanwhile, we continue to produce the two Valley Voice tabloids that appear each week, Thursdays and Saturdays. All in all, we produce more Valley-specific news than ever before. -- Steve Smith, editor

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