Friday, February 29, 2008

Complaints, more complaints

C: Please give us back our TV Guide! Also, I intensely dislike the new format on Sunday's "Home" section, listing property transfers! - C.P.

A: No, we're not going to give you back your TV guide. You couldn't have missed it that much - we stopped publishing it almost two years ago.

Look at it this way: We and you are helping save trees - whole forests of them - by not printing the TV book. It was a 36-page tabloid for which we couldn't sell a single advertisement. Since we stopped printing it, we've saved 425 tons of paper.

Many of our readers appreciate the property transfers in the new list form because buyers and sellers are more easily identified and prices easier to compare. My guess is you "intensely dislike" the new format only because it is different.

One more story

I grew up in a time when Russians were considered our enemies. We were told the Soviet Union intended to bomb America to oblivion and control the world, that the people of Russia, Poland and Ukraine were cruel and fearless automatons controlled by their government. But even as a child, I had my doubts.

I first visited the enemy's side in 1994, not long after the collapse of the U.S.S.R. In the dozen years that would follow, I would return there nine times. I got to know the people we were encouraged to hate in our childhood. You get to know people well - on a different level - when you live with them in their homes.

You are all familiar with the typical travel experience: Visiting a strange and foreign place, the traveler overcomes fear and prejudice to realize that the natives are, despite their culture and language, just like him. Well, my experience in the former Soviet Union has been a little more complex than that. It started as a mysterious attraction, then grew into a joyous emotional attachment before fading. It was, more or less, a long love affair that has ended regretfully.

The story that starts Monday will be about some of the people I met in that part of the world. I hope you enjoy meeting them. As with the previous stories, I know where this one starts but not how or when it ends. Some of the characters may spark some memories of your own that you should share with other readers through your comments.

We'll call this one "Russian Affair."

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Stepping back

Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while may remember references to my good friend and colleague, Alexander Belokurov, editor-in-chief of our sister newspaper in Siberia, Kuznetski Rabochi. I first met him in 1996, when O-R publisher Tom Northrop and I traveled there to lend advice and support to the former communist party newspaper that had been taken over by Belokurov and a clutch of young, liberal-minded journalists. They were having trouble making enough money to keep the newspaper afloat.

I like to think our assistance over the following five years had something to do with KR's survival and growth as a powerful independent voice in Russia. But it was Belokurov who did all the heavy lifting, fighting corrupt businessmen with one hand and city and state government with the other. He fought against official corruption and against greed, and as a result was dragged into court constantly to defend himself and his newspaper.

He had not been a happy man for the past several years. And he grew so tired of the fight that he threw in the towel a few months ago and quit the paper. It was a shock to his fellow journalists who could not imagine working under another editor. We all worried about his mental state.

But Sasha Belokurov has emerged a happy man. He has started a new newspaper, one that has absolutely nothing to do with politics. Here's what he wrote a week or so ago:
"Dear Park!
We've got the 7th issue of our newspaper "The seventh day." Now I can say for sure: everything I planned has turned out well.
The newspaper is distributed for free. Half of it is advertisement, and the other half - journalistic materials.
People ask for a subscription to a free newspaper!
Also we have started its distribution at the nearest towns.
And the latest news - we joined the national printing service and have confirmed the number of our printing, which is 100 thousand copies.
Greetings to everyone at the "Observer-Reporter."

From what I understand from my other friends in Novokuznetsk, the content of his paper involves philosophy, humor and art. We wish him the best, and thank him for the battles he fought.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Whine, whine, whine

C: You need to pay more attention to local sports (high school, junior high, youth). You're not a national newspaper! So stop trying to be one!- J.B.

A: If you haven't noticed, weekly newspapers have all but disappeared. That's a shame, because they covered things like Cub Scout blue-and-gold banquets and youth sports. So readers turn to the daily newspaper and complain that we don't cover this stuff. We could cover midget football and junior high basketball games, but at the expense of what? NASCAR? Pro football? Sorry, but there are way more readers out there interested in the NFL and the Pirates and Tiger Woods than, say, T-ball.

I think as a society we place way too much emphasis on youth sports, anyway. We've reached a point at which athletics often takes precedence over academics in our high schools. The space newspapers give to scholastic sports may be a contributing factor.

We've made a conscious effort at this newspaper to devote more attention to student achievements in academics, music and art. Maybe we should instead be cutting back on youth sports coverage.

What do you think?

A Man's Life

I am Man; hear me roar.
This book by Mark Jenkins, free-lance writer and adventurer, is about manly stuff: You know, mountain climbing, and camping, and riding horses and bicycles through war zones.
Manly stuff, even though some of the crazy people he writes about doing incredibly dangerous things are women.

Now, we're not talking about just climbing mountains here. We're talking about climbing mountains no one has ever seen before, let alone climbed; and then taking the most difficult route to the summit; and then doing it in the middle of winter, just to make it more of a challenge; oh, and without oxygen.

Unlike some of his rock-climbing buddies, Jenkins is still alive, although he seems to have broken most of the bones in his body at one time or another in falls. At times in the stories that make up "A Man's Life," all of which were first published in Outside magazine, Jenkins attempts to explain his attraction to danger:

"The proximity to death can brilliantly illuminate life itself, but with one slip, this brilliance is instantly extinguished and your death becomes a black hole for those left behind.
"Why we climb is personal, but how we climb - a question hardly ever asked - is communal. How we climb defines the spirit of our sport. How we climb directly impacts not just the practice and future of mountaineering, but the health of the mountain environment."

Jenkins' book will give armchair adventurers the shivers, but it's his insight into the motivation of these risk-takers that puts this effort a notch above other travel narrative. If I - a man who's afraid to climb a ladder, let alone a mountain - can thoroughly enjoy this read, anyone can.