Editor's Note: A time of many changes in the Triplicate newsroom

Written by Matthew C. Durkee, The Triplicate May 17, 2014 12:00 am

Please pardon our dust. 

2014 has been a year of major change in the Triplicate newsroom. Longtime crime, courts and prison reporter Anthony Skeens left in February, and editor Richard Wiens wasn’t the only Wiens who left for Hawaii in April — his wife Laura, our Neighbors and Coming Attractions page editor, community calendar guru and able typist of letters to the editor, left with him. By the end of April, we found ourselves short-staffed by 40 percent in the midst of a hopping local election season. 

It’s difficult to imagine less ideal circumstances in which to become editor, but that is the situation I find myself in. Two weeks after my family moved into a new home, I was named the new editor of the Triplicate. Tall stacks of as-yet unopened boxes at home are testament to the 14-hour days I’ve been working for the past several weeks. 

But I’m not the only one working extra hard. Everyone in the newsroom has had to cover additional duties while new staff members are sought.

Sports editor Michael Zogg is doubling up his duties with crime reporting as well. Photographer and graphic designer Bryant Anderson is helping to lay out nation and world news pages. 

Extra work responsibilities have especially impacted staff writer and now features editor Jessica Cejnar. For nearly two years she has covered city and county governments and schools. In this election, her beats have included the sheriff and Measure A races.

Now she is in the process of transitioning into a new role. As features editor she will take on the responsibilities Laura Wiens had while additionally coordinating and reporting on human interest, entertainment and health-related topics for each issue’s B section. 

Help has come our way in the form of our newest staff member. Reporter Aaron West from Nacogdoches, Texas, joined us in early May and has taken city and county government coverage off Jessica’s hands in addition to covering the court and prison beats. 

But Jessica is still juggling her new duties with election and schools coverage, and the newsroom remains down two people — an assistant editor to fill my old position and one more reporter to take the rest of Jessica’s news beats off her hands. 

So we hope you’ll pardon us if not every event you’d like to see in the paper is covered as well as you’d like. 

One example was our failure to give proper due in Tuesday’s paper to former Warrior football star Cody Hoffman signing with the Washington Redskins as an undrafted free agent, something we have tried to remedy to the extent that we can with a full story in today’s paper, and we look forward to an anticipated interview with him next week.

Hoffman is a remarkable athlete and a hometown favorite who broke every major career receiving record at BYU, and while it was disappointing to see NFL teams overlook him in the draft, it is nevertheless exciting that he has a chance to prove his mettle with the Redskins. He was underestimated during college recruitment, and we have good reason to believe the NFL has made the same mistake, something the 31 other teams who didn’t pick him will hopefully regret. 

Matters of opinion

Another challenge is that not every letter to the editor is printed as quickly as submitters would like, especially if they’ve been submitted by hand and must be typed up. Whether it be typing or editing letters, there simply aren’t enough man hours in the week to keep up with the election season avalanche to everyone’s satisfaction.

However, some complaints I’ve dealt concerning the opinion page are standard fare for any editor and have nothing to do with our temporary staffing challenges. Tempers run high in election season, everyone has an opinion and they all want to see them published. 

I want to be clear that fairness and openness are the guiding principles in how I manage the opinion page. Unless a submitted letter or op-ed isn’t clearly false or outright lunacy or a personal attack on a private citizen (not to mention a handful of other restrictions listed in the “We welcome your views” section on this page) then it will likely be printed. 

I’ve received complaints from some people claiming that one side or another in several election races have been denied fair access. An absence of letters for their favored cause, they say, must mean that I am biased and refusing to print letters that surely have been submitted. This is absolutely untrue. If you don’t see enough letters supporting your cause or candidate, then it’s simply because not enough people are writing them. If you know of a letter that has been submitted but not printed, then rest assured we will get to it as soon as we can.

I do uphold some important opinion page policies put in place by Richard Wiens. Letters about hospital regionalization and Critical Access that do not cover fresh ground will not be printed because barrels of ink have already been spilt on the subject and I see no reason to keep telling readers the same things they’ve read over and over. Submissions with fresh perspectives on the hospital issue, however, remain welcome. In practice, the policy has been fairly toothless — most letters have at least a little bit new to say on the topic, so few have been denied publication. 

During election season, no Coastal Voices op-eds about candidates will be accepted because of the higher profile they raise — a more equitable approach the Triplicate has taken is simply to give everyone equal access to letters of 400 words or less.

I have made a couple exceptions to this rule, judgment calls made in the interest of fairness. Regular Triplicate columnist Bob Berkowitz raised some pointed questions about the how the School Board handled its resolution opposing Measure A, and I allowed Keep it California-No on Measure A director Kevin Hendrick an opportunity to reply at length.

Likewise, Aaron Funk, county coordinator for the Del Norte County State of Jefferson Declaration Committee, requested the opportunity to write a response to a Coastal Voices op-ed criticizing Measure A by SEIU chapter president Norma Williams that was published shortly before the election season rules were put in place, and I think it’s fair to allow Funk his chance to reply with his own Coastal Voices submission. His op-ed is scheduled to appear in Saturday’s paper.

Granting exceptions can quickly get out of hand, however, so if you have anything else to say about Measure A or any of the candidates up for election, don’t hesitate to share it with us — just keep it to 400 words or less.