The Coal Valley News had a record-breaking week in online and social media traffic.
What was the story? What drove the numbers up so high? To the shock of many, it was a sports opinion column by a freelance writer.
The writer told his story of not getting game scores or stats reported from some coaches, while getting them from others. One particular coach and his supporters took offense to his opinions and use of words and considered them an attack on students and the school.
The writer said, and the newspaper verified, that several complaints had come in about the lack of coverage for that school’s basketball team and he felt the coach should give, like other coaches do, scores and stats so his student players could get their names in the newspaper. The coach felt it was the writer’s job to go to the games if he wanted scores and stats to write a story.
Then, the heated debate began.
Approximately 25 to 30 people posted their dislike of the op-ed piece on Facebook. Over 80 clicked “like” to comments that didn’t like the writer’s words, tone and opinions. Seven commented in a negative way on the newspaper’s Web site.
Meanwhile, over 4,000 viewed the column on the Web site and over 300 clicked they “liked” it.
There were even some comments on Facebook defending the writer, while others blamed the newspaper for publishing the opinion op-ed piece in the first place.
Also, there were some telephone calls to the newspaper office in Madison, and even a few visits. Just like what was seen on the Web site and on social media, some liked it and some did not.
Some gave their names, and some did not. Some of those that did not give their name or want their name used said they feared retaliation by those angry about the column or by those that supported the writer. They just wanted to give their opinion on the controversial issue, some said. Some just posted comments online anonymously.
Like it or dislike it, the sports column this past week by Ron Gregory is the post that spiked Coal Valley News’ digital media platforms to some of the highest levels in the newspaper’s history when it comes to sports.
We will tell you that grand jury indictments and Jesco White getting married garnered larger numbers, but “Ron’s Ramblings” eclipsed any sports-related news, feature or opinion articles.
Some called it a publicity stunt, others offered suggestions, and some just seemed to say things that had nothing to do with the issue at all. What started as one writer’s opinion on coverage, or lack of it, of a local high school basketball team turned into a name-calling free-for-all.
The writer claimed the coach was at fault for not providing information required by the West Virginia Secondary Schools Activities Commission (WVSSAC), while the coach claimed it was the writer’s job to come to the games if he wanted the information. Everyone had an opinion, a statement, a side or a comment to make about the issue.
Regardless of which side readers and online viewers were on, the comments and posts regarding the column kept people coming back over and over again. We can understand, because many of them were very entertaining to read.
One person posted demanding an apology and then later posted that his or her own rule was to never apologize. Some criticized the newspaper for only having a staff of only three employees, while others seemed to understand the small paper’s limited resources.
Some felt it was the paper’s job to attend all events, other suggested students and parents’ help out the small paper or stop complaining about the lack of coverage. Some just said they wanted Gregory (the writer) fired, or for the newspaper not to use him as a freelance writer in the future.
Both complaints and compliments were gathered for an editorial meeting regarding the controversial column. The newspaper gathered information from phone calls, emails, social media and from conversation with those who visited the office. The paper wanted to show those on both sides of the issue that they would examine and listen to whatever anyone had to say. Both sides appeared to appreciate the gesture.
However, and we know some will understand and some will not, due to privacy laws and company policy regarding personnel issues, the content of that meeting cannot and will not be discussed publicly.
We will tell you that the Coal Valley News will continue to do its best to cover county events, but honestly we cannot cover everything happening in the county. We have never denied publishing any photos of students with academic or sporting achievements. We are a very small staff of three and need help from everyone in the community.
Do we cover events at all? Of course we do. Just last week, we covered the county spelling bee and gave extensive coverage to the county commission and the water crisis. We reported on all those running for local office and did a piece on broadband expanding in the Town of Danville and upgrades to broadband being made in Van.
We reported on Van coach and educator Eddie Hendricks being named president of the Boone County Commission. We have done community features on soup kitchens helping those in need, community enhancement, development and improvements. We have featured many employees and plans of our wonderful local hospital.
We routinely cover the courts, police beat, community and church events, fairs and festivals, hunting season stories, the UBB Miners’ Memorial in Whitesville, and much more.
Last year, the West Virginia Press Association honored Coal Valley News with several writing awards from our staff writer, including a first and second place award in the “Sports Feature Writing” category alone. The paper also earned awards in reporting of government affairs and reporting on business and labor issues.
Could we have accomplished this without the help from others in the community? No way!
The small weekly newspaper gets lots of help from the courts, clerks, law enforcement, schools, teachers, students, parents, seniors, churches, civic and political organizations, as well as many others. We appreciate it very much as it helps us to get the things you want in the newspaper. Sometimes, however, there may be things some readers don’t want or agree with. There may be no coverage of something they think should be covered by the newspaper’s staff. We can’t please everyone, no newspaper can, and the day we write to please everyone, we no longer are in journalism.
As we examined the history of this newspaper and others, we found that readers routinely expressed anger, concerns, compliments and various other forms of good and bad opinions about this newspaper and others.
What you see is news, what you know is background, what you feel is opinion. We don’t just publish opinions we believe, but also publish the opinions of those we don’t believe as well. Readers have always been able to agree or disagree in print, online and on our social media sites.
We have always kept our editorial pages available for “Letters To The Editor” and our social media sites open for comments and posts, which were used in record numbers this week. Thanks again for your opinion and participation.
Opinions are part of most newspapers and we will continue to publish them, even those we disagree with and those some readers disagree with as well. This isn’t the first time readers, viewers or listeners haven’t agreed with an opinion piece or its tone or language in a newspaper, on television, or radio and we doubt it will be the last.
What is the newspaper’s position editorially on the opinion column? We believe both sides should quit with the name-calling and then maybe they can agree to disagree.
As famous American journalist James Reston once said, “The conflict between the men who make, and the men who report, the news is as old as time. News may be true, but it is not truth, and reporters and officials (in this case a coach and his supporters) seldom see it the same way. In the old days, the reporters or couriers of bad news were often put to the gallows; now they are given the Pulitzer Prize, but the conflict goes on.”
We will go on as well.