Accepting Award, ‘Times-Pic’ Editors Say Readers Want Aggressive Papers

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By: Mark Fitzgerald

If there’s a lesson other newspapers can take from The Times-Picayune’s continuing Hurricane Katrina coverage, it’s that readers like papers with aggressive news coverage and pointed opinion, two editors from the New Orleans daily said Monday at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism in Evanston, Ill.

City Editor David Meeks and Editorial Page Editor Terri Troncale talked about the positive community reaction to the Times-Picayune’s “in-your-face” news and opinion as they accepted the 2005 Medill Medal for Courage in Journalism on behalf of the newspaper’s staff.

“People are tired of bland newspapering,” Meeks told the capacity audience at the j-school auditorium. “They are so tired of newspapers sitting on the sidelines and measuring audiences and not taking a stand.”

Troncale said the community’s “love” for the paper is palpable, reflected in everything from comments on the street to a recent meeting in which every mention of the newspaper’s name was greeted by applause.

“They do love us–at least for now,” Troncale said. “Now, you can’t go anywhere without people loving you.”

The reason, both argued, was that readers believe the Times-Picayune is fighting for them with its aggressive coverage of levee reconstruction, rebuilding issues, and all the questions that arise in the post-Katrina era. “We’re a paper that’s a little more in-your-face, and our readers want it that way,” Meeks said.

And there’s no need to dumb down coverage, Meeks added.

“We often think that readers aren’t going to stick with these hard, complicated stories,” he said. “But they will if (the issue) is important to them.”

Meeks was the Times-Picayune’s sports editor who volunteered to lead a group of staffers who stayed behind in New Orleans when floodwaters, loosed by Katrina’s breaching of levees, forced the staff to abandon its headquarters. Troncale was among the eclectic group that reported from the city, working without reliable access to food, water, power or communications. The group included the paper’s art critic, pop music critic, a city reporter, and an attorney.

“I don’t know much about the history of the Pulitzer (Prize), but I’d wager there’s never been a staff like this that won for breaking news,” Meeks said with a laugh. The newspaper won this year’s Pulitzer for breaking news and was a co-winner, with the Sun Herald in Biloxi, Miss., for the Public Service gold medal.

As a picture of the cover of the February E&P issue naming Times-Picayune Editor Jim Amoss as editor of the year was projected on the screen, Meeks said, “Every honor we’ve received is touched with sadness.”

Receiving the Medill courage medal and monetary award from San Jose (Calif.) Mercury News Executive Editor Susan Goldberg, Meeks said he and Troncale were accepting it “on behalf of all the people who lost their lives, and all the people who are trying to rebuild their lives in New Orleans–this is their honor.”

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