While publisher of Ocala Star-Banner Media in Florida, I kept a blog. Entries consisted of selected email exchanges with readers. You’d be surprised the range of matters readers think the publisher isn’t getting on top of. The blog was called Read My Mail. I stripped out the readers’ names, since they hadn’t asked for or expected their comments to go public. Otherwise, the blog ran verbatim everything in the exchange between us. No monumental First Amendment issues surfaced during the blog’s lifetime. In fact many entries may look like small potatoes. I simply wished to open another window into the institution. I thought one way to accomplish that was through a blog consisting of the everyday issues that moved people to write in. Minus additional comments that some entries attracted after publication, I’m preserving some of the blog here (it also can be found at http://aparsons.blogs.ocala.com/author/aparsons/) as a memento of the privilege I had to be in that place at that time. As you will see (if you read it), the final blog entry was a farewell to readers, not an email exchange. –Allen Parsons

Friday, April 27, 2012 at 8:59 by Allen Parsons
For the record, I retire as publisher of Ocala Star-Banner Media on April 30, 2012 so am discontinuing the Read My Mail blog. After all, what’s to read when the the publisher and his mail are no more?

Photo on 2012-04-09 at 09.53 #2I make my final entry, however, not with a letter to me and my reply (the normal course of this blog) but rather with a letter to Star-Banner Media’s readers. The letter appears in the April 29, 2012 edition of the Ocala Star-Banner and http://www.ocala.com. Hoping it won’t seem presumptuous, the letter represents my sincere belief in this institution and in the importance of its connection with readers. Thank you for your indulgence.

One of the signs of Napoleon’s greatness is the fact that he once had a publisher shot.
– Siegfried Unseld
That tongue-in-cheek appraisal stems from a real event. One day long ago a ticked-off Napoleon did order the execution of a publisher who circulated a scathingly critical pamphlet. Napoleon also wanted the pamphlet’s author put to death, but it never happened. The publisher, Johann Philipp Palm, wouldn’t identify the anonymous writer, taking the secret to his grave.
Fast forward to our “enlightened” modern age where publishers, thankfully, seldom face firing squads. These days it doesn’t get much worse for publishers than occasionally being shrieked at.
Which is one of many reasons I will miss being publisher of the Ocala Star-Banner, a privilege I’ve had the past six years.
Now is not the time to bore you with the ins and outs of a publisher’s life (nor, come to think of it, would there likely ever be a good time for that). The lamentable anecdote above pretty much tells you all you need to know. Being publisher is mostly about doing things to support others who are doing their things. At least that’s how I looked at it.
The good news is that in this department the Banner is trading up. New publisher Jim Doughton, abetted by new general manager Jeffrey Pole, represent the finest sort of leaders. They lead by example. I’m pleased to see Star-Banner Media pass into such good hands.
But enough about us. Let’s talk about you.
I asked for space for this farewell message to discuss your future, not to salute me and my comrades. That future, I fervently hope, will include a relationship with Ocala Star-Banner Media in all its forms. So here are parting thoughts I wish you would consider:
– Stick with this publication. You need it just as it needs you. Occasionally readers grow so upset about a particular story or picture or cartoon that tell me they’re going to quit. A few actually follow through on their threat. Don’t join them. That is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. You are not going to find a better way to stay plugged into this area than by reading Star-Banner Media. (Excuse the boast but you’re also not going to find a more comprehensive advertising marketplace.) Don’t gradually drift away as a reader either, through indifference or mistakenly believing you can get all the news you need from blogs and Facebook posts. If you want to play a meaningful part in the world around you, you need to keep up on local news. Nobody provides more of it, more broadly, than the Banner. If you get mad about something you read, tell the newsroom about it. If you don’t see news you think should be covered, drop a dime. But keep reading. Be somebody who knows what they are talking about. There are never enough of those people to go around.
– Star-Banner Media is more than a news operation. It’s a civic institution. It’s an important thread in the fabric of the community. It’s also a daily delivery or a frequent habit. It’s a visitor in your home or office. Could it fulfill its responsibilities better? Let the new publisher or GM know when, in your eyes, expectations aren’t met. Keep the feedback loop alive (it doesn’t hurt to be constructive, but if it’s from the heart, it’s all good). Maybe you don’t think you are making an impression, but nearly always you are. One way or another, reader sentiments influence what happens. Don’t expect agreement every time (you might be wrong too, you know). Or maybe your idea isn’t feasible at the moment. But your insights are priceless to a publisher, who needs to know what you care about in order to keep the enterprise going strong.
– Every once in a while, remember that — like me right now — all of us pass through stages in life. Nothing lasts forever. Along the way pay attention to the world around you, which will be helped enormously by including Star-Banner Media in your daily routine. Then do the best you can with what you learn. Who knows? You could end up in these pages yourself one day. What would you want to be written about you? In my case, if I ever make it into in the Banner again, I hope they say that as publisher I tried my best. Then again, admittedly, I had it relatively easy. During my days in the office I didn’t have to worry about Napoleon.
My sincere thanks to all for being Star-Banner Media readers.

From A Reader:

Hi!
I was thinking about this after some posts I see over and over on Facebook. I am a mom of a special needs child and it seems that most media is focusing on the horrors that we see out there. Abuse in the classroom, bullying, etc…what about the good that goes on every single day? People are posting and posting about the bad things in marion county school system. Well I happen to have a son with a wonderful teacher. She cares about her kids! This is no horror story it is a place a of love and nurturing. He gets what he needs when he needs it. I am sorry if the ideas are fragmented! My point is I would love to see an article focusing on all the good that goes on in the Marion County School system with our special needs kids!
Thanks,
Name Withheld

My Reply

Dear Name Withheld:

Thank you for taking the trouble to share your thoughts.
In my view a huge share of Star-Banner coverage focuses on the good that happens in our schools. Occasionally that coverage is overshadowed by necessary reports on less positive developments, but the need to present a balanced picture is never forgotten.
I am glad to hear of your positive experiences with education for special needs kids. I am passing along your note to senior editors so they will be aware. There are always more stories to do than people or time to do them, of course. So I can’t say if or when they may dig deeper into special education. If you have suggestions about specific programs that would interest readers, however, I know they would appreciate that additional insight.
Allen Parsons/Publisher

From A Reader:Dear Mr. Parsons:

I know it may sound very trivial to you at the newspaper but in attempting to do the “Wonderword” puzzle today, Saturday Jan. 28th, I found that the last line of the words and the answer to yesterdays was not printed.  I greatly enjoy doing this puzzle along with the “Jumble” and would appreciate if your proof reader could look at the ends of pages a little better.  I also attempted to telephone the newspaper but since it is not Monday thru Friday it seems to be very difficult to speak to an individual.

This is not the first time something of this nature has happened including the little holes at the bottom of the page right through the printing.

Thanking you for your attention to this matter.

Name Withheld

My Reply:

Dear Name Withheld,

My apologies for the difficulties you encountered with Wonderword on Saturday.
Your concern is far from trivial. In fact, assuring that puzzles go right each day is a hugely important to the enjoyment of countless readers. Failure on that score disappoints legions of puzzle devotees, and that’s not good.
I regard your note as a painful but necessary reminder to re-double our efforts to prevent dropped lines and hole punches through clues. (Incidentally, the pin holes are created by our presses, where the paper is pulled through the machine by tiny hooks. Mechanically the punch marks are unavoidable, but meant to be too small to obliterate printed words. We need to do better in that area too.)
I’m asking the newsroom to rerun Saturday’s clues and the previous day’s answer that should have been included.
Again, my apologies.
Allen Parsons/Publisher

From A Reader:
Has this (the Health and Fitness) section been dropped from your Sunday edition? I have not received it for the last two weeks in my home delivery? I do not recall there being a notice of this section being eliminated. I am a seven day a week subscriber and hope that new ownership has not started cutting expenses.

Name Withheld

My Reply:

Sir:

Yes, the Health and Fitness section was discontinued with the Dec. 28 edition. It was a decision made locally, without corporate involvement, and before new ownership was in place. In consultation with Banner senior staff, I concluded not to go forward with publication. Regrettably, the section failed to attract the advertising support it needed to survive.
I sense that you appreciated the section’s content, which, if I’m correct, I’m glad about. The editors intend to put a health and fitness focus in the O. section on Saturdays. I hope you will find that the Banner continues to deliver the information you value.
Many thanks for being a reader.
Allen Parsons/Publisher

From A Subscriber:

Evidently the news hounds at the Star Banner are unaware that a very serious scandal involving the murder of a US Border Patrol Agent is going on in the Obama/Holder Justice Department. Do your readers not deserve to be informed of this? Or are you covering up for your beloved liberal democrats? But what should be expected from a biased rag owned by the NY Times, the mouthpiece of the DNC? If you are so willfully negligent in reporting such important news I don’t think I should continue my subscription.

Name Withheld

My Reply:

Sir:
I believe several stories relating to the so-called Fast and Furious operation’s serious blunders have appeared in the Star-Banner.
I infer from your remarks that you wish to read more. I trust that editors will take that under advisement as they continue to select the daily mix of stories in the paper. At a minimum, I’m sure, they will not let the issue drop from sight.
By the way, just to be clear, Banner editors’ news decisions are made locally and entirely independent of The New York Times. To my knowledge, no one at The Times has any idea what goes into the Banner each day. And, it’s just my opinion, but I don’t think the operation had much to do with politics (other than the partisan back-and-forth now underway, in the aftermath, to point fingers and duck the blame). Even if it were about politics, though, Banner editors would, I firmly believe, be ashamed to present biased coverage. Their professional responsibility is to be straight with readers. They take that obligation seriously and invite repercussions if they conspire to subvert that standard.
I appreciate and hope you will continue your subscription. Assuming you remain a valued reader, I also welcome your continuing thoughts as coverage proceeds.
Allen Parsons/Publisher

From A Reader in Texas:

Hello,

Can you tell me if anyone proof reads or approves articles before they are published?   There is an article in today’s Online Star Banner concerning the Seth Jackson murder trial by Carlos E. Medina.   The article goes one for 3 pages and it could be condensed to 1 or 2 page.

We are told in the article –
4 times – a change of venue was requested
4 times – 5 people listed as suspects (with names and ages)
5 times – jurors stated they had not formed an opinion
4 times – what had been done to Seth and how he died
3 times – jurors were brought in one by one to Judge Eddy and questioned
3 times – Seth was Amber Wrights ex-boyfriend

Don’t you think this a little much?  How many times do we need to be told over and over? Personally, I think twice is more than enough.  I don’t have a problem with the article it self – just the way it is written and published.  A little redundant.

This is just my opinion.
I was raised in Marion County and now live in Texas so I look forward to the Star Banner on line every morning to keep up with what’s going on at “home”.

Best Regards,
Name Withheld

My Reply:

Dear Name Withheld,

Thank you for taking the trouble to point out redundancies found in yesterday’s Ocala.com. I presume you are referring the article headlined: “12 jurors are seated for first suspect in Seath murder”.
I’m not sure I found quite as many repetitions as you note, but you are certainly right that there were a gracious plenty.
Occasional refresher information in a lengthy story isn’t always a bad idea. It saves readers from having to recall every detail or go back and reread.
But I think we went overboard in this case. Tighter editing would have helped.
I’m forwarding your comments to newsroom editors. Like me, they will appreciate the helpful critique.
By the way, many thanks for sharing that you enjoy reading Ocala.com each day. I’m pleased that our site keeps you connected to home.
Allen Parsons/Publisher

From A Would-Be Photographer:

Hi Allen ,

I am interested in taking pictures for the newspaper. I will be honest, I  have  no experience. However I love taking pictures of just about anything. I think  that it would be a fun job that would challenge me. If someone does get a job taking pictures for a newspaper is there someone to shadow and maybe just get the new photographer started and show them the ropes? I would love to get some information on this and know exactly what the in and outs of this job intails and are there some part time photographers or all full time. This is my first time even trying to pursue this so I have no idea what all the details are but like I said I love to just have a camera in my hands. Thank you so much for your time.

Name Withheld

My Reply:

Dear Name Withheld,

Thank you for your interest in the Star-Banner.

I am referring your inquiry to newsroom editors for their consideration.

Not to be discouraging, but a couple of points to prepare you for their response:

– News photographer jobs are few and far between. Those hired at the Star-Banner generally have a great deal of professional experience by the time they get here (not to mention formal education).

– Much as we might like to offer training for novices, that’s just not possible. Photographers have demanding schedules and loads of work to get done each day. There’s no time for on-the-job education, so photographers have to know what needs to be done from the get-go.

Of course it’s possible to begin to learn the ropes by taking free lance assignments. On occasion, the Banner also accepts interns, when it is a component of a student’s schooling. These might be a better starting place since you could learn whether photography is the right choice for you.

If the newsroom isn’t able to offer such opportunities, I urge you not to give up on the dream. There are any number of ways to gain more experience, such as volunteering to take pictures for civic and charitable groups, at events, and for other media. You may also wish to sign up for classes.

If you’re meant to be a photographer, keep shooting and learning every day. Sooner or later a door will open.

Allen Parsons/Publisher

From A Reader:

Mr. Parsons,

A couple of days ago I first read an article concerning the euthanization of ducks on ocala.com.  In the article there were some quotes from counsel man Daniel Owens that seriously disturbed me to the point that I listened to the audio from the meeting that was held on Tuesday.  His words were totally out of line and so are the actions that the city of Ocala is going to take to “fix this problem”.
I don’t know if you are aware what a stir this story has caused.  Just check the facebook comments under the article alone.  There are forums, other news sites, and dedicated facebook pages and accounts dealing solely with just trying to save to ducks.
I do that more media attention needs to be drawn to this story.  I have been trying so hard for the past couple of days getting in touch with whoever I can to try and gain publicity but I am having little luck.  So far I have emailed every city councilman, ocala city mayor, PETA, All Creatures Sanctuary, WESH 2. and FOX 35.  I have only responses from select few.  What I am hoping to do here is save the ducks and come up with an alternative to killing them.
I have started an online petition @ http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/nokillducks/and in the midst of planning a protest at Tuscawilla Park.
What I was hoping you would be able to do for me is a follow up story and include the following:
1.  When will the USDA be giving the ducks the laced food?
2.  How is the USDA going to prevent the laced food from penetrating into the parks soil and water?
3.  Why couldn’t an insurance waiver be placed so sanctuaries could take the ducks?
4.  The reasons that the ducks are going to be killed is because of the fecal waste on picnic tables and sidewalks and because they are a danger to children(as told to me in an email from Name Withheld, Ocala City Council member.) What threat do the ducks pose on children and why can’t they simply powerwash and clean said areas?
5.  Also could you shed some light on the breed Muscovy.  The city seems to have the wrong idea about them.
6.  When they are going to lace the feed how can they control which ducks consume it?  or are they mass euthanizing all breeds (native and non-native)?
There is one breed that was discussed at the city counsel meeting that was almost identical to a muscovy, how would they ensure that that   particular duck be saved?

I have many more questions.  I need many more answers.  Could you please help the people of Ocala and Marion County?  We need some publicity to help save the ducks.  Maybe just a story about all of the outraged citizens or some answers to all our questions.  I am just one person trying to make a difference.  I do believe we can achieve and I do want to thank you for your time. I would appreciate any response. ‘

PS – – –  Also we are planning a protest to be held this weekend at Tuscawilla Park.  I was setting up the protest for Saturday at noon with having All Creatures Sanctuary present as well.  Then I was on some facebook pages stating that it was going to be on Sunday at noon and the media (not sure if it was you, was going to be present.  We ALL need to get organized so we can make an impact and make a difference.  An piece discussing some of the above topics would be nice along with a protest date/time/ and place.  I appreciate any help.

God Bless

Name Withheld

My Reply:

Dear Name Withheld,
Thank you for taking the trouble to write with your concerns about Muscovy ducks targeted for elimination at Ocala’s Tuscawilla Park.
I’m forwarding to Star-Banner editors your request for more news coverage. I won’t speak for them, but their job is to decide newsworthiness based on a number of factors. These include things like the level of public interest, significance, proximity, and so on. They can’t allow personal sympathies, if they have them, to affect that judgment, though. The news is reported for the benefit of the readers after all.
With the controversy you reference over the ducks, I suspect more stories will follow, as you are hoping. But, again, I leave it to the editors to decide.
By the way, the Banner does intend to editorialize in favor of relocating the ducks. We see that as preferable, if appropriate arrangements can be made, to killing the birds. The Banner agrees with city officials, however, that the nuisance of the ducks should be removed from the Tuscawilla.
Allen Parsons/Publisher

From A Reader:

Good Morning

I am not sure who to contact or where to start. I am trying to find out information on a story I have been told about from 1990. Is there a way to search archives that old? I saw online that it appears that archives online only go back to 2005. Would the library have the archives from 1990??

Again, Not sure where I should start.

Thanks for your help

Name Withheld

My Reply:

Dear Name Withheld,
You may find what you are looking for through our Google digitized archives. These are searchable replica pages that predate our online archives.
A couple of ways to go about it:
– Click the search button on Ocala.com’s home page. That will take you to a landing page where a “Google Newspaper Archive” link can be found on the left-hand rail.
– Click on the URL: http://www.ocala.com/apps/pbcs.dll/search?category=search&crit= The link takes you to the same landing page mentioned above.
Gaps exist in the Google digitized pages because Google decided against finishing the entire catalogue of Banner editions. On the other hand, there’s a lot included, and among those are pages from 1990, the year you are searching for.
If your online search turns up empty, my next-best recommendation is trying the Ocala public library, which may have microfilm copies.
Hope that helps.
Allen Parsons/Publisher

From A Reader:

I am a student taking a class in media /crime / justice and for an assignment I need to conduct an email interview with a reporter who handles – or who even once handled – crime, the courtroom, or any area related to the criminal justice system.

1.    How did you get into the business of crime reporting (or whatever specific role they play)?

2.    In your experience, what makes a “good” crime story or courtroom story?

3.    Who decides what goes “on the air” or in print after you get the story?

4.    What discrepancies have you found between what is reported – finally – and what actually occurred?

5.    What types of considerations come into play as you determine what is important to report, and what should be left out of the story?

6.    How do you check or confirm information you receive while investigating a story?

7.    What happens if there is an error in a story?

8.    What do you like best about being a crime reporter?

9.    What do you like least?

10. What kind of relationship do you have with law enforcement? The courts?

11. What are the main issues you face as a crime reporter?

12. In terms of whether a story is newsworthy: How important is the gender of the victim or defendant to you and your news organization? Physical appearance? Age? Ethnic identity? Economic status? Celebrity status?

I am a student taking a class in media /crime / justice and for an assignment I need to conduct an email interview with a reporter who handles – or who even once handled – crime, the courtroom, or any area related to the criminal justice system.

1.    How did you get into the business of crime reporting (or whatever specific role they play)?

2.    In your experience, what makes a “good” crime story or courtroom story?

3.    Who decides what goes “on the air” or in print after you get the story?

4.    What discrepancies have you found between what is reported – finally – and what actually occurred?

5.    What types of considerations come into play as you determine what is important to report, and what should be left out of the story?

6.    How do you check or confirm information you receive while investigating a story?

7.    What happens if there is an error in a story?

8.    What do you like best about being a crime reporter?

9.    What do you like least?

10. What kind of relationship do you have with law enforcement? The courts?

11. What are the main issues you face as a crime reporter?

12. In terms of whether a story is newsworthy: How important is the gender of the victim or defendant to you and your news organization? Physical appearance? Age? Ethnic identity? Economic status? Celebrity status?

Thank you for your time and assistance,

Name Withheld

My Reply:

Name Withheld:

I’m forwarding your request to newsroom editors for their consideration.

Our reporters stay busy and your questions look like they will take time to compose answers to. So, while the newsroom will certainly wish to help you, I can’t promise a favorable response

If they can’t assist, I recommend reading one of Edna Buchanan’s nonfiction books, “The Corpse Had A Familiar Face.” In her day Ms. Buchanan was a first-rate crime reporter in Miami. Though it’s a few years old, the book provides great insights into the world of crime reporting.

Good luck with your assignment.

Allen Parsons/Publisher

(Note: The newsroom willingly agreed to be interviewed for the student’s assignment.)

From A Subscriber to the Star-Banner’s Electronic Edition

I am writing to complain about all the problems I’m having with my eBanner subscription.  It started about two weeks ago when a Saturday paper was not posted until early the following week.
On another occasion the solution to the previous day’s crossword puzzle was missing.   (I mainly use it for the puzzles since I can get the news for free online.)  Today, May 27, sections D and E are identical.   I’m glad I only paid for three months.  I won’t be renewing.

My Reply:

Dear Name Withheld:
My apologies for the spotty performance you suffered with the eBanner.
They say that to err is human, but to really screw up you need a computer. Without a doubt our human and computerized systems have in combination performed erratically on several occasions recently. I promise you we are working to sand down these rough edges. We won’t stop until delivery is as close to flawless as we can make it.
I regret that reliability problems are driving you away from the eBanner. I believe in the long-term you would find its accessibility rewarding. If we can’t retain your business, however, at least permit me to extend your current subscription to make up for the days you’ve been inconvenienced. If you will send me your subscriber information, I will pass it along to our circulation team.
Again, I’m sorry for the disappointment in our service.
Allen Parsons/Publisher

From A Forum Reader:

Dear Mr. Parsons,

I have a concern with the local news forum. When I began as a forum member I was under the impression that it was being monitored in some fashion. As of late, with the thread entitled “Do you think Mike and Karl are gay?”, I can’t believe that anyone ever looks at the forums or the reported posts.

I can understand with the economy that your staff may be a bit shorter than it once was, but frankly that is not a hard thread to catch sight of and decide that indeed it does not fall into the category of local news. Of course it is  shame that it would fit into any category, but the Pit would be the only place for that kind of attack.

I really don’t know what can be done about this I just felt I needed to say something.

Thank you for your time,

Name Withheld

My Reply:

Name Withheld:

Thank you for taking the trouble to express your concerns. I’m asking that the comment thread you mention be removed from the news forum. You’re right, some comments turned snippy and personal and don’t belong on the local news forum.

Generally speaking Ocala.com forums are self-monitored. (Right now, there are 80,026 total posts, 3608 total topics and 11,043 total registered members. As a practical matter, staying on top of all of these would take an army). To prevent things from running amok, though, we require users to behave (and suspend or bar those who don’t) and we ask everyone to report indecencies and inappropriate comments they come across.

Relevant passages from our groundrules include these:

– 3.2 (b) Use respectful language. Like any community, Ocala.com chats and message boards flourish only when our members feel welcome and safe. You agree not to use language that abuses or discriminates on the basis of race, religion, nationality, gender, sexual preference, age, region, disability, etc. Hate speech of any kind is grounds for immediate and permanent suspension of access to all or part of the Service.

– 3.2 (c) Debate, but don’t attack. In a community full of opinions and preferences, people always disagree. Ocala.com encourages active discussions in our chats and message boards. But personal attacks are a direct violation of this Agreement and are grounds for immediate and permanent suspension of access to all or part of the Service.

– 3.4 You are solely responsible for the content of your messages. However, while Ocala.com does not and cannot review every message posted by you on the message boards and is not responsible for the content of these messages, Ocala.com reserves the right to delete, move, or edit messages that it, in its sole discretion, deems abusive, defamatory, obscene, in violation of copyright or trademark laws, or otherwise unacceptable. Ocala.com also reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to disallow the use of a particular screen name, or to terminate any user’s posting privileges at any time.

I confess that from time to time I am this close to shutting down all Ocala.com forums permanently. Rude, cruel and infantile comments never end and pointless quarrels are common.

But I always end up thinking back to what James Madison’s said about a free press, that a certain amount of abuse occurs with the fair use of any liberty. Madison said, and I agree, that it is better to leave a few “… noxious branches to their luxuriant growth, than, by pruning them away, to injure the vigor of those yielding the proper fruits.”

Allen Parsons/Publisher

From A Reader:

AMELIA ISLAND————-IT IS IN FLORIDA

I know education is a problem–however–no excuse for this–(your writer) should not be a correspondent if this is an indication–This is not a typo-as 2 times article referred to it being in GEORGIA.
We were going to place an ad–we have a home for sale–now I do not think so–who knows what it would say—
No Signature

My Reply:

Dear Name Withheld,

Many thanks for taking the trouble to point out the unfortunate misidentification of Amelia Island’s location.

While the island is little more than a stone’s throw from Georgia, you are certainly correct that it is Florida real estate.

They say that to err is human, but it doesn’t make our journalists feel any better when they do occasionally trip up. I will forward your comment to the newsroom so a correction can be made.

I regret the error has undermined your faith in advertising in the Star-Banner. As noted, nobody’s perfect. But I trust we would do an effective job for you if you decide to try us.

Again, thank you for writing.

Allen Parsons/Publisher

From A Reader:

Maybe it’s just a test to see if we are paying attention, or a test to see if us Senior Citizens can remember anything from a couple of days ago, but the comics page in today’s paper is exactly the same as was in Monday February 7th, I can still remember that.

Not sure I can tell you what I had for lunch on Monday, but I recognize the comics.

Name Withheld

My Reply:

Sir:

My apologies for rerunning old comics in today’s edition of the Ocala Star-Banner.
I appreciate your light-heartedly drawing our attention to this regrettable error.
Believe me, inadvertently repeating the day’s comics wasn’t a test of reader attention spans or memories. Comic pages are stored as electronic files in our computer system. Unfortunately someone pulled the wrong file and nobody else caught the mistake.
To err is human, they say, but it’s not a laughing matter (get it?) when the mistake involves the funny page.
We will print Wednesday’s comic strips in Thursday’s paper to catch up. Again, my I apologize for the inconvenience.
Allen

From A Reader:

What on earth was the paper thinking when they posted smiling, thumbs-up photos of those two house burglers?!!!  I’m not one to write about the content of the paper…but this was the most tasteless, inappropriate thing you could possibly have allowed.

Glorifying crime?  You all need to reevaluate your morals and ethics.

My Reply:

Name Withheld:
Thank you for taking the trouble to express your concerns regarding the picture of a cheery house burglary suspect in today’s Ocala Star-Banner. I regret that the image upset you.
I’m sharing your comments with senior newsroom editors, who make news coverage decisions, so they will know what you thought.
I won’t try to speak for them. But may I briefly share my own opinion?
Yes, the photo was unusual (it’s not everyday that you see a broadly smiling, thumbs-up-gesturing criminal suspect in custody). I can’t say that I believe it glorifies crime, though. After all, the suspect has been captured and is facing prosecution. If anything, to me it is the picture of someone who either doesn’t grasp or doesn’t care about his situation.
I suspect the editors understand and sympathize with you about the cavalier attitude portrayed. The journalists’ job, however, is to show the world as it is, not as we might wish it to be. In publishing the suspect’s picture, I believe they would tell you they felt it was the most accurate portrait they could provide to readers.
Allen Parsons/Publisher

From A Reader:

Good Morning,

I read in yesterday’s paper that the Banner will be publishing a TV guide booklet. I understand it will contain detailed stories about programming in addition to the Crossword and Sudoku puzzles. I exercise my brain every day with these puzzles and I’m wondering if they will be moved from the daily edition of the newspaper. If so, does that mean I will have to pay MORE for something that I already pay for in my regular Banner subscription? Also, will the daily TV schedule remain in the Banner? I would appreciate it very much if you would clear that up for me.

Thank you,

Name Withheld

My Reply:

Dear Name Withheld:

I’m glad to hear that you enjoy the Star-Banner’s crossword and Sodoku puzzles. I’m pleased to tell you they will continue to appear daily in the paper.

In addition, the daily TV schedule will run as always.

We have found that a very small slice of Star-Banner readership regularly uses the TV Weekly listings, now published on Thursdays. For that minority we believe an improved publication, albeit one that must be separately subscribed to, will be more to their liking. As part of that book’s contents, additional puzzles are being included for those subscribers.

Allen Parsons/Publisher

From A Reader To Me and An Editor:

Gator Howdy, Guys,

Just something for ya’ll to consider in the future elections.  Several people have mentioned they wished the various info about candidates, amendments, etc. was put in the paper earlier.  With absentee ballots and early voting, info could be appreciated earlier and maybe even again later.

Name Withheld

My Reply:

Name Withheld,
Many thanks for taking the trouble to share your thoughts. I appreciate your interest in the process and in thinking of ways that might encourage more knowledgeable participation.
I’m relaying your comments, which I’m inclined to agree with, to our editors for their consideration.
As more and more people cast votes early, it wouldn’t hurt to provide an election guide sooner, rather than later. As you suggest, the information could be repeated — and/or made available online — for those who aren’t yet ready to think about elections.
Hope you’re doing well.
Allen

From An Out-Of-Area Would-Be Contributor:

Hi,

I am a self-syndicated writer.  I write a weekly column … that is a little different than some columns in that it is short stories from community life.  I have included a few samples.  I would like to send my columns each week as a submission, and if you find a spot for any of them, I’d be very pleased.  I’d be very willing to have my columns run at no cost to you for a time period to allow you to have a chance to see how they are received by your readers.  I am confident they will like them. In this day of bad economy, and often less than pleasant news, humorous and/or thought provoking stories about community life are very popular.  My column has been picked up by quite a few papers and magazines in the U.S. and Canada … My column is very well suited to community newspapers.

If you would like to try my column out with your readers, I’d appreciate just a quick note to let me know.  If there is a different email I should send this to, or if you would like any more information, more samples, or have any questions, please feel free to contact me.

Thanks for your time.

Name Withheld

My Reply:

Dear Name Withheld,
Thank you for your interest in the Star-Banner.
I’m forwarding your inquiry and columns to newsroom editors, who decide what content to use. Not to be discouraging, but only to make you aware, it’s rare for our publication to add columns that don’t have a local connection.
However our editors decide, I wish you the best of success with your writing.
Allen Parsons/Publisher

From A Reader:

Dear Sir:

I just read the article “Local veteran, author Alvarez’s life could read like fiction” written by your staff writer Ann Sperring that appeared in the 9/6/10 edition of your newspaper.  I would like to send Dr. Alvarez an aerial photo of Parris Island that I recently found on the internet but neither of the two e-mail addresses that I have for him are valid.  Could you provide me his current e-mail address?

Name Withheld

Yorktown, VA

My Reply:

Sir:

Many thanks for your impulse to share a Parris Island photo with Dr. Alvarez. I’m forwarding your note to newsroom editors, who, I’m sure, will relay your kind offer to Dr. Alvarez. I’m afraid that we could not give out the doctor’s e-mail address without his permission (if we have it). Other than what is published or public record, personal information gathered by the Star-Banner is treated as private.

Allen Parsons/Publisher

From A Reader:

Boy does it ever speak volumes about this newspapers political standings when a story about an environmental nutcase is not front page news.  Americans were held hostage at gunpoint by a brainwashed Al Gore fan.  That’s newsworthy.

When Grandma at a Tea Party gets more coverage for being a violent nut something is wrong.  Karma will shine on you.

My Reply:

Dear Name Withheld:

Thank you for taking the trouble to express your concerns over placement of today’s news story on a gunman who took three hostages at the Discovery Channel in Silver Spring, Md. The story ran across the top of page 7A in the Ocala Star-Banner and you believe it should have received front-page play.

I can’t say you are wrong. Where stories appear in the daily paper are judgment calls, after all. As far as I’m concerned, there is no absolute right way. Many factors go into determining where stories appear in the paper each day — or whether a story gets in at all. Readers certainly may legitimately disagree with those choices.

I will share your thoughts with editors. I trust they will appreciate the feedback. Not to speak for them, but I suspect their decision on where to play the gunman story was based in large measure on the conflict’s resolution. Hostages taken were unharmed and no physical damage occurred. Had conditions or the situation escalated, my guess is the story would have received more prominence.

I do feel safe in assuring you that editors weren’t motivated by the gunman’s addled views on the environment nor whether they do or don’t track with Al Gore’s stances. For one thing, it still isn’t clear what those views were nor how rationally the gunman arrived at them

Over and above today’s story placement, you seem to believe that editors have an axe to grind against the Tea Party and that they give a pass to environmentalists. While I don’t believe that is true, I know that from time to time readers may find cause to wonder. They suspect motivations beyond newsworthiness color editorial judgments on certain issues.

Invariably, I find editors make story decisions based strictly on what they think will interest the most readers. If they don’t do that, sooner or later they find themselves unemployed. Having a livelihood is a compelling motivator to play straight.

I regret that the gunman story’s placement created such doubts within you. My assurances to the contrary aren’t likely to clear your mind of those suspicions, so I won’t try. But I do ask you to consider the possibility that you and our editors simply disagree on how important the gunman’s story was.

Allen Parsons/Publisher

From A Reader:

Mr. Parsons:

A few days ago I wrote and asked you to consider ending your forums section. As I suspected, my plea was ignored. My reason for contacting you was the fire that has been brewing surrounding the shooting of the two Great Danes in Silver Springs Shores.

The fire has continued to grow. The original topic surrounding the shooting was titled UNTHINKABLE. I mentioned that when I contacted you earlier. Since then there have been other topics started on the subject.

Now I see the shooter has received death threats. I’ve personally read of such implications of threat to the shooter from comments left by your readers. Your forums have kept this controversy alive and have fueled the fire. If those death threats are even attempted, a good attorney will implicate your forums as the driving force behind them. I don’t really need to spell it out what that would mean for you….financially. My attempts to convince you to do away with your forums in hopes of extinguishing this fire will certainly be of interest to that attorney.

I heard it said one time that if you feed something you keep it alive. If you ignore it, it tends to go away. I’ll ask again….end your forums section.

Name Withheld

My Reply:

Sir:
Please accept my apologies. I started composing a response a couple of days ago to your original letter. I regret that I hadn’t completed it before your second note arrived today. I hope you won’t regard these past several days as ignoring your concerns, which, to some degree, I share. Rather it represents good intentions but an overloaded bandwidth.
At any rate, what I wanted to tell you is that I share your disappointment at the crude and cruel comments sometimes found on Ocala.com forums.
In the past few months, I’ve responded to several other complaints like yours. If you’re interested, you can read my replies on my blog at:

http://aparsons.blogs.ocala.com/10123/when-forums-turn-blue/

http://aparsons.blogs.ocala.com/10150/10150/

I grant that the forums found on Ocala.com — and everywhere else on the internet — are occasionally unruly, ill-mannered and pointlessly insular.
At best, I’m only about 51% in favor of retaining this form of free expression.
What keeps me slightly on the side of forums is the belief that, in the end, they represent what our democracy is all about. They are pure free speech, something our nation’s founders believed was essential to liberty, even if it may from time to time be abused by a minority. Beyond that, they are a barometer, albeit an imperfect one, of public sentiment on any given topic of community interest.
This doesn’t mean I think of the forums as a right, like free speech. I don’t. I think the forums are more like a privilege, roughly equivalent to a driver’s license. We all know that some drivers are unsafe. But rather than take away everyone’s driver’s license because of those unsafe drivers, we police the miscreants and let others go on their way.
In Ocala.com’s forums, we try to do the same. When we find abuses, we strike the offending entries. If someone continues to abuse their privilege, we take the Survivor –style step and get them off our island (they are barred from forum posting, temporarily or, depending on the offense, permanently). We count on other forum members to alert us to these abuses. I welcome your note in that vein, and have forwarded it to newsroom editors for appropriate action. (I have seen several forum posts from people who think death threats, wherever they may have come from, are wildly inappropriate, by the way.)
Your note also has prompted me to think more about requiring proper names from those who post on Ocala.com forums, rather than the pseudonyms now in use by many. Some people have argued that requiring posters to properly identify themselves would moderate their comments. I’m not sure that is true (or that real names could, in fact, be obtained). But it’s worth investigating.
Again, my apologies for the delay in replying. I appreciate your concerns and take them as a heartfelt desire for higher level of civil discourse.
Allen Parsons/Publisher

From A Reader:

As a parent and Booster Club member of the Vanguard Knights, I am appalled by a quote from an article in today’s paper, and on Ocala.com website!  Listed under “Quotable”… I hardly believe this should have been put in the paper:

QUOTABLE: “There will be a lot of young faces on defense, so we’ve just got to help get their confidence up. Most of them took notes watching the seniors last year, so they know what to do. I’m going to be a leader on defense. I’m looking to put at least 11 (opposing players) in the hospital.”— senior linebacker (Name Withheld)

“I’m looking to put at least 11 player in the hospital”!  That’s his goal?  Not to win games but, to put people in the hospital! Very NICE!!!  How can ANYONE feel that this comment could be construed as “quotable”.  High School football is about learning and perfecting the sport… not about PUTTING PEOPLE IN THE HOSPITAL!  Quite honestly, who ever decided to put this quote in the paper, really needs to have their head examined!  If I was a … Coach, I would be quite upset about this as well… it basically represents their school as anything other than what it should…

I understand trash talk.  I understand even saying I plan to kick some butt (even in some not so nice words) but, I just don’t understand including this type of message.    I don’t honestly care that it’s … whatever team it would of been, it’s just not appropriate.  I would think the reporter would of ran this quote by the Coach before allowing it to be printed.  Better yet I would think the reporter would use better common sense then to include that statement in the article.

Very Disgusted Mother

My Reply:

Dear Name Withheld,
Thank you for taking the trouble to express your concerns. I share your opinion about the higher aims of prep sports, and regret that the quote about hospitalizing opponents, on its face, seems antithetical to good sportsmanship.
Star-Banner editors tell me they thought hard before deciding to publish the quote. Like me, I suspect, they viewed the comment as colorful hyperbole, common in sports, not a threat to be taken literally. As a measure of one player’s intensity, or playfulness, the quote seems to fill the bill. Unfortunately, as your letter demonstrates, the quote also can be read as inappropriate.
I am sharing your comments with newsroom editors for their consideration. Like me, they will no doubt appreciate your feedback.
Allen Parsons/Publisher

From A Subscriber:

Mr. Parsons,
I left a message (as I have done before) to stop my paper delivery for vacation. I was away from 8/10 to 8/19 and wanted my account credited. When I returned all the papers were in my driveway. Not only was I annoyed that I lost the credit, but more so because a home with newspapers in the driveway is a signal to thieves.
Today I found my paper soaking wet due to rainy conditions. In the past papers delivered on a rainy day were double bagged.
Have you hired a new delivery person for my area?
I would have contacted Home Delivery directly but they do not have an email address.
Sincerely,
Name Withheld

My Reply:

Sir:
My apologies for the snafus. It is uncharacteristic of our delivery service, which is normally quite good, to compound one difficulty with another.
I’m forwarding your note to Home Delivery Manager Bill Hayter. At a minimum, Bill will want to straighten out your account for the unwanted newspapers. He will also, no doubt, follow up with your carrier.
Again, I’m sorry to have tried your patience with delivery problems. I appreciate your being a subscriber and hope you will remain one for a long, long time to come.
Allen Parsons/Publisher

From A Web Site Administrator:

Hi

I would like to publish this article ( “DHS sends boy home for dressing as a girl”) on our fledgling web site, we are a transgender support group and this would be of interest to our members.

http://genderfreedom.ca

Thank you.

Best Regards,

Name Withheld

My Reply:

Dear Name Withheld:

Thank you for your interest in sharing a Star-Banner article, and for your inquiry.

Our policy is to permit web sites to post a short summary (a sentence or two) of our material, along with a link to the full story on our web site, www.ocala.com.

Within those parameters, you are certainly welcome to proceed.

Allen Parsons/Publisher

From An Author:

Star Banner, Allen Parsons:

My name is (Name Withheld), and Im a full time student at College of Central Florida and a year ago I wrote five (5) short … stories for my neice and she loves them and I would like to get the stories made into a book and see if they can be sold; however, I have no idea how to do this. I contacted (Name Withheld) Publishing Company and sent them the stories and they sent me a letter back stating that they are interested in this book but wanted over $6000 to do it, which I thought was strange and outragoues. Can you give me any advice or help? The stories are attached to this email if you would like to read them or maybe you have kids that might be interested in them. The names of the charactes could stay the same or they could be changed to the person who you are reading the book to.

My Reply:

Sir,

Thank you for sharing your stories. I wish I could be of help in suggesting a book publishing source for you. The Star-Banner is a print and digital news medium, however, and I’m afraid I don’t have contacts in the book industry.

It sounds as if you received a quote from a publisher who charges to print books. I’m told that is a legitimate business, and many authors have taken that route. Other authors choose e-reader outlets or create web sites for their material, which reduces or eliminates the cost of print. And of course there are literary agents and authors also submit their own material directly to publishing houses.

Should you try any of those alternatives, I wish you the best of success.

Allen Parsons/Publisher

From A Reader

Comment,
Poorly researched and biased. Blaming the victim when motorists are not obeying the driving laws is counter productive and not fair. People with disabilities who must use a wheelchair/scooter for mobility are equal, tax paying members of our society and should not be limited on where they can go or how they accomplish it. Safety is not the issue/discrimination may be?
Please contact the Advocacy Center for people with Disabilities (www.advocacycenter.org/850-488-9071 ) for a more complete understanding of the issues and so your writers can be more factual in their presentation.
Name Withheld, scooter user
Winter resident of Ocala

My Reply:

Sir:
Thank you for taking the trouble to express your concerns. I am forwarding your comments to senior newsroom editors, who make the decisions about what stories are published and where they are placed in the paper.
Personally I don’t believe the Star-Banner’s story on scooter wheelchairs blamed anyone, either motorists or scooter users. Rather the story tried to point out the potentially combustible mixture on busy city streets of automobile drivers and scooter users, each of whom needs to get where they’re going. While the story noted that some scooter use, such as riding beside traffic lanes, creates hazards because drivers can’t always see such low-riding transportation, it also pointed out the dangers of inattentive automobile drivers.
I appreciate your providing contact information and a link for additional information about issues relating to disabilities. I suspect editors may already be aware of this resource, but, if not, they will be grateful to receive it as well.
Allen Parsons/Publisher

From A Reader:

Sir:
I was a victim of this scheme on 5/8/10 at the (Name Withheld) Station in Lady Lake on 441 (across from Name Withheld).
Your paper needs to make this front page news to alert all Marion/Sumter/Lake county residents.
Thank you.
Name Withheld
http://www.gainesville.com/article/20100709/ARTICLES/7091001/1118

My Reply:

Dear Name Withheld:
Thank you for taking the trouble to share information about your situation.
I’m forwarding your comments to senior newsroom editors, who make the Star-Banner’s news coverage judgments.
My guess is they will want some way to verify or substantiate your assertions. Should they contact you, if you can produce evidence or point them toward it, that would help.
Allen Parsons/Publisher

From A Subscriber:

Dear Mr. Parsons,
I need to vent for a minute… Whoever “organized” the Crape Myrtle tree sale on Saturday ought to be shot. I was there at 7:45, and already the selection of trees was very weak. NO WAY did they start with 7500 trees as the ad stated. I was there last year and they had way more to sell. If the amount of trees was less this year, which I’m guessing it was, then they should have limited the amount each person could purchase to maybe 3 or 4. I saw people leaving with wheelbarrows full of them, I also witnessed many people leaving the line to go home disappointed because they ran out so early.
I just wanted you to know and maybe forward my email to the right people so they know too. Thank you.
Name Withheld
Star Banner subscriber

My Reply:

Sir:
My apologies for your disappointment with this year’s Star-Banner crape myrtle sale. As you know, the sale is important to our organization. The money raised supports the Star-Banner’s Newspaper In Education program, which provides local school students with free access to the paper’s daily editions. Additionally, funds are shared with the Silver River Mentoring & Instruction program and with the Star-Banner’s own Community With A Heart charity.
With so much at stake, we are concerned about generating ill will with the community, and, especially, subscribers.
I can assure you, though, that 7483 crape myrtles were sold during this sale. So the total advertised for the sale (7500) was on the mark. (By the way, the nursery that supplies crape myrtles for the sale didn’t have its best growing year ever, which limited available inventory. We are aiming for 10,000 trees next year.)
Perhaps it would have been better to limit individual purchases, as you suggest, so that more customers could have been served. But since this is an annual event, we don’t really have a method for forecasting community demand. Some years it’s up. Some years it’s down. Rationing sales, we believe, could leave us with unsold trees (which happened last year, even without limits). Since our goal is to raise as much money as possible for these good causes, putting a cap on sales to individuals could in the end do more harm than good. Generally we make it clear that the sale continues only as long as supplies last. We will certainly try to make that clearer next year, along with pressing our supplier for more crape myrtles.
Again, I regret your unhappy experience this year. I do appreciate your desire to support the Star-Banner’s crape myrtle sale, and, even more, your being a subscriber. I hope we will not disappoint you at next year’s sale.
Allen Parsons/Publisher

From A Reader:

Just read and viewed the pictures of the re-opening of the theater. I can’t believe you did not inclued a picture of Biddy Kirk. What the heck? The Kirk donated the building. Don’t really need to see a bunch of goofy people having cocktails.

My Reply:

Dear Name Withheld:
Thank you for taking the trouble to critique coverage in the Star-Banner of the Marion Theater’s reopening.
I shared your comments with Managing Editor Tom McNiff. He agrees with you that it would have been nice to have a photo of Biddy Kirk and perhaps even focus the story on her. Though her beneficence has been written about in the past, given this signature moment in the theater’s history, Ms. Kirk’s thoughts on the future would no doubt have interested readers.
That’s not to say that cocktail-drinking good cheer was inappropriate to photograph or report about. This was, after all, a street party to celebrate the theater’s revivification.
But, along with Tom, I agree we could have provided more context by including Ms. Kirk.
You’ve given Tom an idea for a follow-up story on Ms. Kirk, though. So again, many thanks for writing.
Allen Parsons/Publisher

From A Reader:

Hello, please read attachment and if you desire write a story about it. My goal is to get this information to someone who can use it. Really, anything can be overcome and I know my plan will work in a matter of days if we all work together. This leak is horrible. I have done all I can including sending request for meeting with Bill Nelson. Also sent request to Obama, and to Bloomberg News, and to The US Coast Guard.. you are the first I send the plans to. Please send me reply with your intentions. I am an RN, not an engineer by trade. But it seems sometimes the simple things are over looked.
Thank You
Name Withheld

My Reply:

Sir:
Thank you for submitting your plan to halt the Gulf oil leak.
I’m forwarding your material to the newsroom, where editors can decide the best course to follow up.
You mention that you are an RN, not an engineer. Not that this invalidates your plan, but it suggests to me that additional vetting likely is necessary before Star-Banner editors could commit to reporting on the idea.
Again, my thanks for sharing and for your concern for the Gulf’s ecosystem.
Allen Parsons/Publisher

Up or Down?

Friday, April 30, 2010 at 10:34 by 

From A Reader:

Do you read this before posting? Is there an on-line editor?

COMMUNITY
Flags set to fly at half-staff today
President Obama has declared that flags should be flown at half-staff today in honor of Dorothy Height, an African-American administrator, educator and social activist who died last week.
Height was president of the National Council of Negro Women for 40 years and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1994 and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2004.

My Reply:

Dear Name Withheld:
My apologies for lack of clarity in the recent posting on Ocala.com.
I’m told that President Obama did, in fact, order that flags be flown at half staff at the White House and all government buildings. So that much of the announcement is correct.
The proclamation did not bind private businesses, however, which the online posting failed to note. I regret any confusion that resulted.
Allen Parsons/Publisher

Asking for Help

Thursday, April 22, 2010 at 5:41 by 

An outreach leader writes:

Hello, can you email me back info on how I can get a press release published in the Banner?
I am wanting to send out one because my outreach is in need of some financial help. I spoke with a friend at United Way and she suggested a press release.
Thanks
Name Withheld

My Reply:

Dear Name Withheld:
For community news I recommend sending a release to Susan Smiley-Height, the Star-Banner assistant city editor who helps coordinate such coverage. Her email address is: susan.smiley-height@starbanner.com.
Generally it is a good idea, when seeking news coverage, to include in your press release reasons why the public should be interested in helping, such as services that would be lost if money isn’t raised. Try to put yourself in the readers’ shoes and ask what would make them want to read about your group.
Best wishes for success in your outreach efforts.
Allen

From A Reader:

Where is the Tea Party coverage? Oh I forgot, you are owned by the New York Times! Please don’t have McNiff answer..his emails go directly to my Spam folder.

Name Withheld

My Reply:

Sir:
Many thanks for taking the trouble to write. I appreciate the opportunity to reply to a couple of your points.
First, all news judgments at the Ocala Star-Banner are made locally. The New York Times Company doesn’t believe in one-size-fits-all for its properties. It strongly holds that each publication, if it is to be successful and serve its community, must independently make the call on what is news to its readers. Seriously, nobody at The New York Times has any idea what’s in the Ocala Star-Banner, day in and day out.
Second, I saw a big photo spread today on the Local & State section taking note of a Tea Party downtown rally/demonstration in Ocala yesterday. In addition, the home page today of Ocala.com, our Web site, features a four-photo package of the protest, accompanied by explanatory content.
Could the Star-Banner provide more coverage on the Tea Party movement? Absolutely. But that is true of nearly all subjects. Time and resources are finite, after all. But a quick check of Ocala.com archives this morning shows the Tea Party has been the subject of or mentioned in 589 stories in print and/or online. In its relatively brief lifespan, the movement has clearly demonstrated it is a force to be reckoned with and that its influence appears to be growing. So I suspect it will continue to attract more coverage in future.
Finally, in addition to news coverage, I invite you and others in the movement to share your letters to the editor and op-ed comments as you see the occasion require it. I can’t promise every submission will be published (that’s true for all contributors), but the Star-Banner welcomes and believes in a robust exchange of ideas.
Again, my thanks for your note.
Allen Parsons/Publisher
ps: Managing Editor Tom McNiff, who I am copying on this response, may wish to follow up with his own note. Tom’s a good and fair man and, if he does write, I urge you to hear him out. Thanks.

Cover Me?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010 at 4:22 by 

From A Board Member

Mr. Parsons,
I am a Board Member of German Shepherd Rescue of Central Florida. We need help with getting funds to provide life saving, pain saving and sight saving surgeries as well as day to day expenses for our dogs. Dancing Dog Farm, home of German Shepherd Rescue is in Belleview Florida. Is there any possibility your paper could do a story and picture spread to show what we are about, how we rescue and care for the dogs, and what people can do to help? The poems attached are just a few of many that reflex the life of a rescuer. It is our honor and privilege to be allowed to save these lives, but we would like to save many more. Everyone from our organization are volunteers, from our board members to our accountant to our attorney.
Please check us out at www.gsrfl.org
Name Withheld

My Reply:

Name Withheld:
Many thanks for sharing information about your organization’s good works. I’m forwarding this to our newsroom, where news coverage decisions are made.
Editors receive many story suggestions every day. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to get to them all. That’s not to discourage you, only to let you know that it may take time for them to reach a decision.
It usually helps to have a timely connection where news coverage is concerned. A general profile story is nice, but even better if it is associated with something else that’s happening. Readers tend to be more interested when news is tied to something they’re hearing about or can participate in. If your group can think of anything along those lines, please let us know.
If the newsroom decides against writing a story this time, I do encourage you to be persistent. Keep thinking of ideas that readers would want to know about, and keep pitching them.
Best of good luck with the rescue effort.
Allen Parsons/Publisher

From A Reader:

Hello, i have a problem with something. Several days ago Name Withheld was found murdered in an abandoned house. And still to this day nobody has even mentioned this. Not any news papers, press, police, nobody. I don’t know him very good but i did attend high school with him. I was wondering why nobody has mentioned this at all. Is it that he has a prior record, is it that he is poor, I don’t know. Whenever somebody gets murdered it is all in the newspapers and everything, what makes him not so important to not mention it at all? I really wanted to know what happend, or if the killer was even caught. Makes me wonder if they are even looking for a killer. Please look into this. thank you.
Name Withheld

My Reply:

Sir:
Thank you for the inquiry. I’m forwarding it to the newsroom.
Murder makes news in this area, where, thankfully, the crime is relatively rare. So I can assure you the victim’s situation or history wouldn’t matter when deciding whether to publish a story.
Based on your information, I’m confident the newsroom will follow up. Again, my thanks.
Allen Parsons/Publisher

My Follow-Up E-Mail to The Reader:

Sir:

I have learned from the newsroom that police did not consider the death in question to be murder. As a result, it wasn’t categorized as a crime so the police beat reporter had no reason to pursue the matter.

The Star-Banner intends to publish a follow-up story, though, in tomorrow’s edition. It also will appear on http://www.ocala.com today. Here is a copy:

Body found Sunday: officials await toxicology report

OCALA – A man found deceased in an abandoned home over the weekend was not the victim of a homicide, according to officials. But authorities are awaiting a toxicology report to determine exactly how Leroy Adkins Jr., 32, died.

Police say Adkins’ body was found inside the dwelling at 109 N.W. Ninth Ave. on Sunday when someone went into the home after noticing an odd odor in the area.

Officials from the Medical Examiner’s Office responded to the scene, and officials determined there was no foul play. Authorities said Adkins had a history of drug abuse and medical issues.

Visitation will be 2 to 7 p.m. Friday, March 12, at Tony Tanner Funeral Service, 127 N.W. 20th St. Ocala, with funeral services at 11 a.m. Saturday at Debose Chapel United Methodist, Reddick.

From A Subscriber:

Dear Mr. Parsons:
I am in receipt of a letter from you to update my credit card information. I called the number listed in the letter and must advise that I am somewhat upset with the ability of response from your representative. Please hire people to do this job who can speak fluent English and without an accent which is very hard to discern.
Name Withheld

My Reply:

Sir:
My apologies for the difficulty you encountered.
Most Star-Banner’s circulation processing is handled by an independent contractor in the Philippines. Agents are hired based on their ability to speak English clearly, since they will be dealing with predominately English-speaking customers. The vast majority of agents have no problem meeting that standard. Though they shouldn’t be, some are borderline in English skills. Supervisors work those agents who have difficulty shedding an accent. If they can’t improve rapidly, they are let go.
I will see that your helpful feedback is shared with the contractor. Based on your name, it will be possible to identify the agent you talked to, and take corrective action.
Thank you for being a Star-Banner subscriber.
Allen Parsons/Publisher

From A Deputy:

Good morning. I am (Name Withheld) of the Marion County Sheriff’s Office.
I would like to thank your staff for running the story on our Missing Endangered person, Name Withheld.
A Mother was worried about her adult son with mental issues, and by all accounts, I thought he was heading to Colorado where anything could have happened to him along the way.
A young man in Silver Springs saw your story on the internet, and recognized that the missing man was staying in a local motel, so he alerted the authorities. His being located brought relief to a worried Mother and his sister, and was a relief to this Sergeant, who was tracking the case.
Do not underestimate your power to influence the quality of life for the citizens of Marion County. I want you to know that the decision to run this story made an impact, and brought a concerning situation to a succesful conclusion.
Name Withheld

My Reply:

Sir:
Many thanks for the thoughtful note and much-appreciated reminder of the power of the press.
I’m gratified to learn how well things turned out for the missing man and his family. Thank you for letting us know that information in the Star-Banner contributed, even in a small way, to reuniting them.
When the Star-Banner publishes a story, it’s impossible to predict what, if anything, will happen. Often, as the matter you mention illustrates, informed people make good use of what they read.
I’m sure our editors will be pleased to hear about this outcome. Again, thanks for writing so I can share it with them and for your efforts on this case.
Allen Parsons/Publisher

Fan Mail

Monday, March 1, 2010 at 6:36 by 

From A New Subscriber

Hello Mr. Parsons
After living for 37 years in the state of MD, I moved here in August of 2009.
One of my concerns, aside from terribly missing my adult children who reside in MD, was that I wouldn’t find my favorite newspaper (The Washington Post) in Ocala.  And I have not found the Post.  But that’s okay because if I really need a Post “read”, I can go online.
What I did find here is a wonderful local paper and that, of course, would be your Star Banner.  You have some really good writers.  So today I became a subscriber.
Thank you Star Banner!
Name Withheld

My Reply:

Dear Name Withheld,
You made my day!
Many thanks for taking the trouble to send such a thoughtful and encouraging note.
Of course I’m biased, but am delighted to say I agree with your assessment of the Star-Banner. Our staff works hard everyday to serve readers and advertisers. Confirmation that we are hitting the mark is a terrific shot in the arm.
I realize the Star-Banner isn’t perfect. (What is?) So I welcome your thoughts anytime on how we can improve in your eyes. Reader feedback — good and bad — is much appreciated. We may not always agree, but will always be pleased to know what you are thinking.
Again, many thanks.
Allen Parsons/Publisher

From A Reader:

Dear Sir,
I am curious as to why your paper continues with the online forums. I do not post there but have occasion to read them and they are nothing more than childish arguments between about a dozen people. There is vile language, threats, and all kinds of vulgarity going on there. They really are a poor reflection on the quality newspaper you provide as well as the general populace here.
Perhaps you should take some time to read them occasionally. You would be appalled at what goes on there.
Thank you,
Name Withheld
Lifelong Marion County resident

My Reply:

Sir:
I share your disapproval over crude and vulgar language sometimes found in the online forums. In the past few years, as activity has grown on Ocala.com’s forums, we’ve given a lot of thought to how to police them.
Our aim is to maintain an environment in which users have broad freedom to express what’s on their minds. Immediacy, empowerment and interactivity are what the Internet is all about, after all. Through the forums, an exceptionally wide range of community opinions surface.
At the same time, we don’t want users going beyond the bounds of civil discourse.
Unfortunately it looks as if we can’t have it both ways.
So our compromise solution has been to retain a robust environment for airing thoughts and viewpoints (even loopy and unpleasant ones). When someone crosses the line, we rely on users to alert us (we also patrol the forums ourselves). Then we remove offensive remarks. If a user repeatedly abuses the privilege of posting comments, we bar him or her from further access.
It’s not a perfect system, but I think it’s better than shutting down forums so no one can participate.
I’m not trying to get all James Madison on you, but within reason I believe in applying his wisdom to Ocala.com’s forums: “Some degree of abuse is inseparable from the proper use of every thing; and .. it is better to leave a few … noxious branches to their luxuriant growth, than, by pruning them away, to injure the vigor of those yielding the proper fruits.”
Allen Parsons/Publisher

From a Student:

Dear Mr. Parsons
My name is (Name Withheld) can you answer some question for me for a school.
it is for school online class. thank you.
What do you consider to be the three most important elements of a successful newspaper article? Please explain your three choices.
If you could read only one section of your local newspaper each day, which section would it be (front page, life/times, sports, local news, etc.)?
How important are images/graphics to the overall appeal of a newspaper? Can a newspaper be successful without images/graphics to support the news articles?
If so thank you and please e-mail it back.

My Reply:

Dear (Name Withheld),
Happy to offer my thoughts.
To me, the most important elements of a successful newspaper story are fairness, accuracy and context. Accuracy is important because if the facts of a story aren’t right, it undermines the reader’s faith. The reader can’t know what information to trust if one or more facts are wrong. He or she is left to wonder which ones are right. Fairness means that facts are properly balanced, that all relevant perspectives are included. Even stories that are factually correct can be unfair if the facts are presented in a partisan way. Objectivity and impartiality are the hallmarks of a trustworthy story. And, finally, context is critical. A story can be true but not accurate (or accurate but not true) if necessary background information is missing. Really, this amounts simply to telling the whole story, so readers don’t misunderstand a situation and draw faulty conclusions.
I would never want to be limited to only one section of the paper each day, so I can’t answer your second question. One of the greatest things about newspapers is how they package the world each day. A reader stumbles across all sorts of unexpected treasures by navigating through the newspaper’s sections. I suppose many readers have their favorite sections, but for me it’s the whole bundle that I want.
As to your last question, images and graphics are enormously important to a newspaper’s overall appeal. Images draw readers’ attention and almost always contribute to a fuller understanding. More over, powerful pictures and graphics tend to stay with readers. What readers see often is every bit as important as what they read. Having said that, I do believe, in answer to your final question, that newspapers can be successful without images and graphics (that is how they started). In the end, what counts is providing readers information they can rely upon and that serves their interests.
Hope this helps with your assignment. Best of good luck.
Allen Parsons/Publisher

From A Writer:

where is the link to post a letter to the editor?????

My Reply:

Dear Name Withheld:
Many thanks for your interest in posting a letter to the editor.
Across the top of each page are links (Home, News, Sports, etc.). Click the link for Opinion.
Scroll down the Opinion landing page. On the left hand side of the page (below Editorials and Other Recent Editorials headings), you will see a link for Email Your Letter To The Editor. Click that link and it takes you to a template to write your letter. When finished, click the Submit Letter button. Your email will be delivered to our editorial page editor.
Hope that helps. Please let me know if you need more help.
Allen Parsons/Publisher

From A Reader:

I read several online newspapers and my preference is the Ocala Star Banner.
My complaint is this: why keep old news stories there for several days or a week or so at a time when there is PLENTY of other news to publish. For instance, you keep old news on the site but yet you public the mug shots of all the people who have been arrested but NO stories about those arrests. You could certainly fill your spots with a ‘police blotter’ type section in the police and community news section.
I hate seeing the SAME news stories day after day after day on the site. If it’s a significant story, I can see running it for a few days but one should NEVER go to a newspaper site and see NO new news!
Please rethink your site and try to keep NEW news or CURRENT news there and remove or archive the older news more often. Ocala has grown past the “little country town” attitude and there is plenty of news to publish if reporters are dilligent. Most everything, including police arrests, are online now and easy to check
I just think that the online newspaper should contain the MOST current information. Post criminal activity for people can be aware of their own neighborhood crime problems etc
Anway, thats my ‘rant’ for the day.
Name Withheld

My Reply:

Dear Name Withheld:
I’m pleased to hear Ocala.com is your preference for online news. Thank you for sharing that opinion.
I completely agree with you that Ocala.com should be updated daily, and throughout the day’s news cycle.
That’s what we do.
On a typical news day, breaking news headlines, story updates and new developments appear constantly. (As I write this to you, a quick check of Ocala.com shows me a dozen local news stories have been added or updated in the past three hours alone. And that doesn’t count many dozens more updated from national news services.)
We can always do better of course. I take your comments as helpful feedback, which I will share with the newsroom. The aim of reporters and editors is to meet readers’ needs, and reader reaction helps calibrate their efforts.
As to older material appearing on the site, many readers say they appreciate having quick and easy access to stories for a day or two, in case they missed something. Removing articles from the site faster wouldn’t make them happy, and I suspect we won’t try their patience in that way.
Again, my thanks for reading Ocala.com.
Allen Parsons/Publisher

From A Reader:

Hello. I read the article you wrote about cubans and marijuana. i was brought to this country from cuba 1968 when i was 2 years old and never had any trouble with the law. I saw this because i was thinking of moving to marion county with my family to give my children a better and more quality of life and dont appreciate the manor that cubans are projected in this article. thank you.
Name Withheld

My Reply:

Sir:
Thank you for taking the trouble to write and express your concerns.
The story you reference, about a “Cuban connection” to marijuana grow houses in Marion County, did note an extraordinarily high proportion of arrests among Cuban nationals with ties to South Florida. From what I read, from around August to December 2007, of the 16 people arrested in Marion County grow-house cases, all were Cubans.
The next year, 32 of the 37 people taken into custody were Cubans; last year, 29 of the 35 people arrested were Cubans.
These facts are inescapable, and I don’t see how the Star-Banner’s reporter could ignore them. So I can’t fault the journalism.
I sense that your concern goes deeper, however. If I’m right, you fear that readers might get the wrong idea that Cubans and Cuban-Americans are naturally criminal-minded. Nothing could be further from the truth, of course, but stereotypes are easily created and hard to dislodge, I know. For that reason, I believe the Star-Banner should provide context as well as facts. That means it should report the full range of Cuban and Cuban-American experiences in our community, not just crimes.
With a complete picture, readers aren’t as prone to misimpression and sterotyping. I can tell you the Star-Banner has strived (and succeeded, I think) in showing the many and varied positive contributions of Cubans and Cuban-Americans in our community. We will continue to publish the whole picture. The newsroom and I welcome your thoughts on stories that will contribute to that end.
I hope nothing in our story will deter you from coming to Marion County, if that is what your family ultimately wishes to do. This is a fine community to live in and welcomes new residents.
Allen Parsons/Publisher

Request From Afar:

Dear mr parsons,
excuse my english but I haven’t used it very often. I am from germany an I am going to ask for Help.
I been looking / searching for the father of my son (Name Withheld) (22 years old). We tryed already everything and we are always searching over the internet and finally we found a little article from 1989 in your newspaper.
We are lookong for (Name Withheld) … his mother`s name is (Name Withheld) and he has two brothers (Name Withheld) the little one and (Name Withheld), All what wie know ist that he was engaged / married with (Name Withheld) – She has a daughter.
My son hasn’t seen his father since he is born and all the years we tried everything even over social securitie but it seems like everything we tryed well never got an answer. The embassy told us to take a private invetigator but they cost so much that i can not afford it.
Maybe you can help us with an adress?
Here something about us. We moved after militarytime 1988 to Florida …. My Son (Name Withheld) is born Octobre 1987. November 1988 we had to leave the states because we got devorced. I hope you can help us
sincerly
Name Withheld

My Reply:

Dear Name Withheld,
Though sympathetic to your stated plight, I’m afraid I must tell you the Star-Banner cannot be part of the search for your ex-husband.
Occasionally the paper reports on people who have gone missing in some mysterious circumstance. There is no indication anything like that happened in this case, however.
As to supplying personal information on individuals, as a rule the Star-Banner simply doesn’t do that. The ethics of our craft — with extremely rare exceptions, such as to prevent physical harm — don’t allow it. We publish for readers the relevant information we obtain. The rest remains confidential. (That doesn’t mean we know of your ex-husband’s whereabouts. As far as I know, we don’t.)
You mention having followed numerous leads, none of which have panned out. I am certainly not in the advice business, and am not advising you now, but I think any number of background-checking agencies could help for much less than the cost of a private investigator (which you say you cannot afford).
Allen Parsons/Publisher

From A Reader:

Mr. Parsons,
It is pure disgrace to know you allow people to write garbage on your website. Children do not stand a chance in a case like this. How could a child surf your website with the content you allow to be posted? This is a true shame!
Here’s an example of your web page at it’s finest:

“Posted 18 January 2010 15:18
Obama is a gun-hating, socialist piece of S— ! He should be thrown out of office immediately. All you whining liberal,tree-hugging trash that wanted him in this position should be booted out of the united states & be forced to live in a third world country!”

You should consider guidelines when you allow other’s to post on your website. This is ridiculous!
Name Withheld

My Reply:

Dear Name Withheld:
Thank you for taking the trouble to express your concerns, and for making us aware of an objectionable post on one of Ocala.com’s forums.
I share your disapproval over crude and profane language sometimes found in the forums, such as the example you cite. We will remove the offending comment.
In the past few years, as activity has grown on Ocala.com’s forums, we’ve given a lot of thought to how to police them.
Our aim is to maintain an environment in which users have the freedom to express what’s on their minds. Immediacy, empowerment and interactivity are what the Internet is all about, after all. At the same time, we don’t want users going beyond the bounds of civil discourse.
Unfortunately it looks as if we can’t have both.
So our compromise solution has been to retain a robust environment for airing thoughts and opinions. When someone crosses the line, we rely on users to alert us (we also patrol the forums ourselves). Then we remove the offensive remarks. If a user repeatedly abuses the privilege of posting comments, we bar him or her from further access.
As to children reading the forums, I suspect there will always be content that could jar their sensibilities, even if the occasional profanity disappeared. The only way to safeguard forums for children would be to forbid any adult ideas. With all due respect, I don’t believe that is a good practice.
Again, many thanks.
Allen Parsons/Publisher

From An Empathetic Tar Heel:

Dear Mr. Parsons,
In light of the current cold snap affecting your area, I thought you might be interested in the following letter written from there by J. E. Whaley to an ancestor of mine, Henry Blizzard of Pink Hill, NC. Obviously he was no Nostradamus. So despair not, it will be warm again.
Sincerely,
Name Withheld
Raleigh, NC

For the sake of grammatical color and to adhere to the original, I have retained the spelling errors, etc. The letter is on ruled stationary headed “Office of W. T. Gray & Co., Commission Merchants and Manufacturers Agents.”

Ocala, Fla., April 18, 1895
Mr. Henry Blizzard and Family
Dear Sir and Cosin
I will try and drop you a fiew lines to let you no that I am not dead yet. I rote to you when I first came to florida but I never did get an answer from you but I Will rite again and See what you Will do this time this leaves us all well at this time hoping that this will find you all the Same Jennie is married and has too children a boy and a girl Jennies husband has left her and is gone to alabama Pappy is Staying with Jennie Tobe is a groan man he is just like Joe William for the world I am not married yet I dont think I shal ever marrie.I had a Girl out here but she got married and left me and So I shat try any more. I have wearst luck than any one Else on earth Times are awful dull out here and the dullest I ever saw We had a freeze out here the first of January and it killd all of the orange Groves too the ground I tell you florida looks bad Since the freeze It has killed florida dead She will never get back whear She was I like to Stay out here quite well I would like to see you all but dont have any idier that I will ever See you any again it is So far back home and Money is So Sceasse and I hav had such Bad luck Since I came out here. I am running the engine at the ocala Steam Laundry at $1.00 a day but it takes all to pay Board I want you to rite to me just as Soon as you get this and tell me any thing you can it does me good to here from home So I will close With love too you all So good night from your cousin and loved one
John E. Whaley Post ofice ocala florida
Box 862

My Reply:

Dear Name Withheld:
Many thanks for sharing such a fascinating glimpse of life as seen by an Ocala pioneer. His recollection of a January freeze in 1895 provides perspective to our current cold snap.
I’m not sure exactly where a letter like this belongs, but am forwarding it to our newsroom and editorial page editor for their consideration. If they do publish the letter, they will certainly let you know.
Whether they find a home for Mr. Wheatley’s letter or not, I’m sure they join me in thanking you for taking the trouble to share with us. It’s like opening a time capsule.
Allen Parsons/Publisher

From A Reader:

Can you guys cover local news update your site more often story from Orlando that should be covered locally.
http://www.wftv.com/news/22187902/detail.html

My Reply:

Name Withheld:
Thanks for taking the trouble to write and for your interest in local news. You won’t find more of it anywhere than what’s in the Ocala Star-Banner and on Ocala.com.
Thanks too for sharing the link about inmates helping with citrus harvest. It gives me a chance to point out that Star-Banner photographer Bruce Ackerman produced a terrific 7-photo slideshow that appeared on Ocala.com on Friday, same days as the TV station report. A couple of Bruce’s photos also appeared in Saturday morning’s edition, with a short article about the harvest.
Not to be overly sensitive on the subject, because local TV certainly has its merits, but much of what our competitors cover is based on Star-Banner reporting, where the information originally appeared. Though not in this case (where it was a tie), if you want local news first, generally you’re best bet is the Star-Banner and Ocala.com. We’re not perfect, we can’t be everywhere, but knowing there are interested news consumers like you out there, we do our best to get it you right away.
Allen Parsons/Publisher

From A Subscriber:

Dear Mr. Parsons,

My husband and I moved from Maine to Ocala August 14th and we purchased a subscription to the Ocala Star-Banner shortly thereafter. I have been puzzled by something since we began to receive this newspaper. Why isn’t the classified section one entire portion of the newspaper? It is most annoying to have all of those loose pages to deal with. Today, Sunday 1-3-2010, there were sixteen pages split into four separate sections. Doesn’t your printing mechanism allow for combining this into one section? Reading the Star-Banner would be much more enjoyable is this was accomplished.
Yours truly,
Name Withheld

My Reply:

Dear Name Withheld:
First, many thanks to you and your husband for becoming Star-Banner subscribers after arriving from Maine. I hope you are finding the paper useful and engaging.
As to Sunday’s four-part classified section, I’m sorry that it annoyed you.
The Star-Banner’s press is a remarkable machine, with the power of a locomotive and the precision of a Swiss watch. But it has limits. The number of sections that appear, how big they are, and where they fall, is influenced by many considerations (among them: how big the total press run is, how many color pages are being printed, where those color pages need to be, and so on). Without going into exhaustive detail, which I barely understand myself, let me just say that occasionally it helps to create additional sections to increase press run options.
Most of the time the paper is remarkably consistent in form, despite varying from day to day in page length and advertising count. Four consecutive four-page sections, such as you experienced on Sunday, are rare. Again, I regret the inconvenience this may have caused. While I can’t say it will never happen again, I hope you will bear with us when press runs make uncommon configurations necessary.
Allen Parsons/Publisher

From A(n Unwilling) Subscriber:

Dear Mr. Parsons,
I regret that I must trouble you over the following issue but feel I am left with little choice. In the past few months I feel I have received horrible customer service from your newspaper and after repeated attempts to solve my problem with your customer service line I have received NO satisfaction.
My wife’s grandmother (name Withheld) was a subscriber to your paper for many years, she passed away in November, I called to cancel her subscription shortly after that. I was assured the paper would no longer be delivered and that her credit card would not be charged. As far as I know the account was cancled but the paper keeps coming, I have called no less than six times to ask that this stop. I have called politley I have called angry, I have called in every manner I can think of and yet the paper keeps coming. You might think that it is a free paper and should be no problem, except that the papers pile up and peope can tell that Paula is no longer home during the day, an inconvience and possible liability for my family, also this is a constant reminder of our loss and while we are not so emotionally fragile that it devestates us, it is one more thing we can not put to rest. I may have kept the subscription for myself but this paper boy is terrible (as evidenced by their current behavior) I will find newspapers under my car, in my trees, anywhere except the convient nespaper slot on my mailbox that has NEVER had a paper in it. In these troubld times for the newspaper industry I would hope that customer service and the reputation of your newspaper would be more important to you. Please help with this simple issue so that I have the respect and service my family deserves as long standing surscribers even if we are cancleing at this time.
Thank you for your time.
Name Withheld

My Reply:

Sir:
First, my condolences on your loss. I deeply regret that the Star-Banner has contributed to your grief.
Also, please accept my apologies for the incomprehensible persistence of our delivery service, especially after your numerous attempts to stop it.
You wouldn’t know it from this situation, but actually the Star-Banner’s delivery service is quite good by industry standards. We receive very few complaints while taking the paper to tens of thousands of area homes every day of the year. But none of that matters, I realize, if we can’t straighten out this mess.
I’m asking Home Delivery Manager Bill Hayter to make sure no more papers are delivered to your wife’s grandmother’s home. He assures me that will happen, and joins me in apologizing for this difficulty.
Allen Parsons/Publisher

I am writing in regards to my Daughter, (Name Withheld). She was trying to cross SR 40 this evening when a car came along possibly with no headlights. The car hit my Daughter while she was standing in the turning lane trying to cross the street. She sat in her car while my Daughter was on the ground bleeding. Rebecca hit the windshield and bounced off the car. The police did not arrest her or even ticket her. Name Withheld had to be airlifted to Shands. An officer from the highway patrol came to the intensive care unit at Shands. He told me that it was (my daughter’s) … fault. That she should not have been trying to cross the street. There is no pedestrian crosswalk in the area & that he may have to ticket her. I am completely disgusted with the whole ordeal. Thankfully my Daughter only has two fractures on her skull & will make a complete recovery. I thought maybe you could run a story about how many people get hit in this area. They should really have a crosswalk. Thanks for your time.
Name Withheld

My Reply:

Name Withheld:
So sorry to hear of your daughter’s accident, though pleased to know she will recover. That must have been quite a scare for both of you.
I’m forwarding your note to senior editors, who make the Star-Banner’s news judgments. I know they will give the matter careful consideration.
Best wishes for a speedy and full recovery.
Allen Parsons/Publisher

From A Reader:

Mr. Parsons,
I understand that inaccuracies in news stories are the rule rather the exception in today’s news world, and perhaps I am old fashioned, but I still have the fantasy belief that news organizations strive to report the truth. The article about “doctor” Doug Nagle is false. He is a physician’s assistant. (Your reporter) … was taking great liberty but I find it unacceptable that the editor (or someone at Ocala.com) did not fact check. I often overlook the not-so-true facts because I want an overview of what is going on in Ocala/Marion County. Even the Enquirer has some thread of substance and that is the attitude I take when I read Ocala.com . However falsifying someone’s medical credentials is beyond what I can tolerate and although you probably don’t care what I think, I feel obliged to write.
Yours truly,
Name Withheld

My Reply:

Name Withheld:
Thank you for taking the trouble to write and call our attention to a misleading article. The story and headline unquestionably drew an inaccurate picture of the principal subject’s status. I regret the error wasn’t caught before going into print.
As one of our editors said to me: “All mistakes sting, but this one really hurts because it was so avoidable and because the information was so elemental to the story.”
You will find a clarification in today’s Star-Banner on page A2 (where corrections and clarifications customarily appear).
To err is human, but it’s not an excuse. My apologies.
Allen Parsons/Publisher

From A Reader:

Shame on the Star Banner.
You publish large “stories’ about debate on supporting the CHRISTmas event at the livestock paviliion, BUT, when over 5,000 people and 500 volunteers show up to help people in he worst economic times we’ve seen…… NOT A WORD.
If the mere fact that over 35 churches worked together in one community for a common goal is not newsworthy, you’ve lost touch with what’s important.
Your credibility has taken another lick with me.
Name Withheld

My Reply:

Name Withheld:
Sorry you were disappointed.
You won’t find another news media outlet that provides more community coverage than the Star-Banner, but, sadly, even we can’t cover everything.
The event you mention certainly sounds like something the Star-Banner would have, and probably should have, written about. I’m not sure whether the newsroom was told about it, though. So I’m forwarding your note to senior editors to make them aware. There may be a follow-up story to be done.
Thank you for taking the trouble to write and let me know. Again, my apologies for disappointing you.
Allen Parsons/Publisher

Reader’s Follow-Up Note:

Allen:
Thank you for your response.
I just assumed that since at least 2 lengthy articles (http://bit.ly/5KUFTY and  http://bit.ly/8RBkoL) written about whether the city council should give any funds towards this event, that a follow up would be forthcoming. I’ve lived here 33 years and never seen a community event that brought together over 30 different churches and ministries who worked together and helped, (now I’m told) over 7,000 people.
The more coverage of good, encouraging news, the better for our community.
Name Withheld

My Follow-Up Reply:

Name Withheld:
Sorry to be slow. I thought you were referring to an event other than (in addition to) the livestock pavilion gathering. No question the newsroom was informed about when churches would be at the pavilion.
Allen

From A Reader:

Dear Publisher,

I am looking to contact Jerry Harris, who was the outdoors writer for
the Ocala Star-Banner in 1994 (and perhaps earlier or later, I don’t
know). Do you have any idea where he might be now or how I might be able to contact him?
Thank you,
Name Withheld

My Reply:

Name Withheld,
I’m referring your inquiry to the newsroom. Someone there may have the contact information you’re looking for. Sorry I can’t be of more help.
Allen Parsons/Publisher

From A Reader:
To:
Subject
“Local Shoppers for Christmas” picture gallery

Fortunately Pen and Ink is a stationary store, though I do believe it is also a stationery store. If you meant “not moving”, stationary is correct; if, however, you meant it sells papers on which to write, I think you meant stationery. Sure the Star Banner can do better than this…….

My Reply:

To Name Withheld:
Thanks for sharing but I think we got this one right.
Our story in today’s Ocala Star-Banner and on Ocala.com both spell stationery with an “e”. I don’t see a spelling using an “a”. Did I miss something?
Allen Parsons/Publisher

From A Reader:

Dear Star Banner,
I am not sure who to send this to but I would like to make a suggestion for the Christmas Lights page you always put out. My dad has had a really cool light display all because of his santa stuck in a chimney. The legs kick and it looks like santa has been stuck in the chimney. He has been doing this display for years and I always tell him to write to you all at the paper and suggest him at least as an honorable mention. He had not done it that I know of and since it has been at leat 12 years that I have told him to do it as I am now. He has more lights then just the Santa too and they are worth at least mentioning even if it’s not in your top 10 or however many you do. His house is: Address Withheld
Thank You.
Name Withheld

My Reply:

Dear Name Withheld,
Many thanks for sharing information about your dad’s Christmas display. It sounds festive. Must be a lot of Christmas spirit around that house.
I can’t make any promises but am forwarding your note to the newsroom, where coverage decisions are made. Star-Banner editors receive many suggestions each holidy season and do their best to show a representative sampling of how the community celebrates.
Whether or not your dad’s display ends up in the paper, you may wish to shoot your own video of the those moving Santa legs and upload it to our Web site here:http://www.ocala.com/section/zoom02. You may also wish to upload still photos to the site here: http://www.ocalapress.com/opix/
Best wishes for happy holidays.
Allen Parsons/Publisher

From An Artist Couple:

Hello,
I apologize for any inconvenience.
We are from Europe and the last five years we are living in Florida.
We are working as a cartoonists.
I would again apologize for any inconvenience., however,
if you wish to discuss any points, or need any further information,
you may wish to contact me accordingly.
Yours faithfully
Names Withheld

My Reply:

Dear (Names Withheld):
Thank you for your interest in the Ocala Star-Banner. I must tell you that we are not presently in the market for free-lance art work.
This is no reflection on your drawings, which are very good. It is simply that the Star-Banner’s editorial cartooning and illustration needs are filled by syndicates, with whom we have contracts. All the same, I’m forwarding your information to our editorial page editor, in the event a special occasion arises.
Best of good luck with your artwork.
Allen Parsons/Publisher

From A Reader:

TO: allen.parsons@starbanner.com

There was a major shooting that took place in Ocala yesterday..nothing in the paper. Does that say something to you?

My Reply:

Sir:
Thank you for sharing. I will pass the information along to the newsroom. Any additional details you provide would be appreciated.
Several things could affect why an article didn’t appear in today’s paper. Among factors that could have delayed a print story by a day are 1) when the incident occurred, 2) when authorities provided information, 3) where it occurred and 4) how serious the harm. Since you say the shooting was major, I presume it is something the Star-Banner normally would report upon.
I don’t know whether this is the incident you refer to, but I’m aware of one shooting that occurred last night outside a bowling alley.
I suspect details from police came too late to meet the production deadline for this morning’s paper (though I don’t know that for sure), which would explain why there’s no story about it in the Star-Banner today.
If that is shooting you are wondering about, a solid account of it can be found today on our Web site, (http://www.ocala.com/article/20091125/ARTICLES/911259987/1340/NEWS?Title=Police-seeks-clarity-in-parking-lot-shoot-out). On the Web, the Star-Banner is able to break and update news anytime, with a print story typically appearing as soon thereafter as the next edition runs off the press. For that reason, I believe you will find a follow-up account in Thursday’s Star-Banner.
Our reporters work hard to get the latest news into the paper. It’s what they live for. When they don’t get that job done, it hurts. Worse, it disappoints readers who have a right to expect the Star-Banner to be up to date. I regret that you were let down in this instance.
Allen Parsons/Publisher

From An Out-of-Town Correspondent:

Good Morning Mr Parsons,
My name is (name Withheld) and I … (represent) …Palatka High School’s Theatre Department. I was hoping you may have a spot for publicity of our upcoming seasonal musical “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas”. Here is the info and we may be found on Facebook as well. Just search PHS Irving Berlin White Christmas.
The Palatka High School Musical Theatre Department will present Irving Berlin’s WHITE CHRISTMAS December 10th – 13th, 2009 at the Flo Arts Mainstage Auditorium.
WHITE CHRISTMAS is a musical based on the Paramount Pictures 1954 film of the same name. The libretto is by David Ives and Paul Blake, with music and lyrics by Irving Berlin.
PERFORMANCE DATES/TIMES:
Thursday, December 10th (Opening Night) … 7:30pm
Friday, December 11th … 7:30pm
Saturday, December 12th … 7:30pm
Sunday, December 13th … 2:30pm
Tickets are $12 and are available for purchase NOW at the Palatka High School cashier or Ralph’s House of Flowers. All seats are reserved.
Under the direction of Robert Pignato, this troop, comprised of high school students both on stage and back stage, has premiered such classic musicals as Titanic, Les Miserables and Disney’s Beauty and the Beast along with new greats as Thoroughly Modern Mille, and Curtains. In the past, many of Mr. Pignato’s students have gone on to graduate from the American Musical and Dramatic Academy on Broadway as well as many notable musical theater departments from colleges across the country.
If you would like any additional info please email or call. Any help you can give us would be greatly appreciated.
Sincerely,
Nmae Withheld
Palatka, Fl.

My Reply:

Sandy:
Thanks for sharing information about upcoming performances of White Christmas. I admire your theater department’s ambition about getting the word out.
Unfortunately, Palatka is well outside the Star-Banner’s circulation area. So the newsroom may be disinclined to print your notice. All the same, I’m forwarding the material to a senior editor, who will make the final decision.
Regardless of whether an article is published in the Star-Banner, you may wish to post a listing (it’s free) about the show on our web site’s events calendar, which covers a broad area. You can find the calendar on our home page, www.ocala.com.
Best of good luck with the musical.
Allen Parsons/Publisher

From A Reader:

Mr. Parsons,
In the past couple of weeks it has come to my attention that the Ocala Star Banner is currently farming out jobs to people in several foreign countries. It so happened it was time for me to renew my subscription to the Star Banner when I received a phone call from a young lady that barely could speak English asking me if I wanted to renew. After asking her several questions I found out she was calling me from the Philippians.
This is seriously disturbing to me especially with the state of the economy here in Ocala. As you, I am sure, are aware that Marion County currently has one of the highest unemployment rates in the State of Florida.
I cannot understand why our local paper, who depends on our citizens to keep them afloat, cannot find enough unemployed people here to fill their call centers. At this time I am seriously considering never buying another Star Banner and letting several other American citizens in my neighborhood who have subscriptions know of your hiring policies.
If you could you please give me a reasonable explanation why our local paper, owned by a New York group, feels it is necessary to hire employees outside the United States? After I receive my answer, I then will be better equipped to continue the pursuit of renewing my subscription and spreading the word about my approval or disapproval with the Ocala Star Banner. Thank you so much for your response and addressing my concerns ahead of time.
Name Withheld

My Reply:

Sir:
Thank you for taking the trouble to write and for the opportunity to respond about Star-Banner circulation customer service operations.
Thank you even more for being an Ocala Star-Banner subscriber. I hope you will remain in those ranks a long time.
You are correct that many of the Star-Banner’s circulation customer service functions are performed in Manila, in the Philippines. This includes taking subscription orders, receiving and processing consumer inquiries, and handling account management matters such as vacation stops. We contract for these services with a company based in Wisconsin, which has expanded its operations to Manila. (The Star-Banner also maintains a smaller customer service operation here in Ocala, that works in concert with the team in the Philippines.)
We do not, as you may have heard, have people working for us in several foreign countries. The Philippines operation is the only one not based in the U.S.
Admittedly part of the rationale behind contracting for the service was to economize. I’m sure I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know: All companies constantly need to find operational efficiencies in order to remain competitive, especially in today’s challenging economic environment. In the long run, efficiency contributes positively to growth, and growth is what enables companies to sustain and ultimately expand employment within their markets. This is what the Star-Banner is trying to do.
But the Star-Banner didn’t shift circulation customer service operations to a vendor for economy alone. We also sought to provide an overall better customer experience.
With the vendor the Star-Banner engaged, it has been possible to extend the hours of customer service, provide faster call-response times (shorter waits), and lower error rates. Long-term, we believe this will strengthen our business and keep us around to provide advertising, news and information (and jobs) in the community we serve.
Is the service perfect? No.
But it wasn’t perfect before we transferred much of the customer service load to this vendor either.
In particular, we receive ongoing complaints (such as yours) about the language barrier. To be sure, it is a small number. Still, after more than a year of call activity based in the Philippines, I wish the problem had been eradicated. But we are working on it. Supervisors monitor calls daily, track results, counsel customer service representatives on how to improve, and, ultimately, weed out those who can’t get better. I regret that your experience was made difficult by a representative’s troublesome accent. It’s not acceptable, but, again, I think you will find such encounters the exception rather than the rule.
This reply is so long that I’ve no doubt exhausted your patience already. So I’ll conclude now rather than delve into the sticky area of global economics. I’d simply like to point out that the U.S., as one of the world’s leading exporting nations, has long found that free trade between countries generally benefits all economies. That argument probably is for another day.
Meantime, I hope you will find the Star-Banner’s commitment to our community — in its coverage, its civic and charitable participation, and its employment — deserves your continued patronage.
Again, my thanks.
Allen Parsons/Publisher

From A Reader:

I read your indignant laced editorial this morning (http://tiny.cc/sSLzw) on the Florida football team, its coach and the state of the games itself. It was an amusing jaunt through the land of innocence. However, when you had a chance to put something positive in the newspaper and bring a minute or two of pride on a job well done to parents, players and coaches, you couldn’t find an inch of space in the sports section or the time to return an e-mail.
Want to increase readership? Spend more time with the young men and women in the school system that go beyond the minimum requirement of attendance.
Want to bring something positive out to the public? You should look into how many volunteer coaches there are in all the games today. Maybe you could even highlight a male and/or female coach for a particular sport once a season. I’m sure that would generate more public interest than another article on people that steal from local sports organizations.
Name Withheld

My Reply:

Sir:
Sorry to hear that you didn’t care for today’s editorial. We all have to call them as we see them.
Speaking of opinions, I guess I would have to dispute your point about the Star-Banner lacking in positive coverage of youth sports. The Star-Banner devotes hundreds of pages a year to chronicling the achievements of local athletes and teams.
I’m not saying the Star-Banner is perfect. No doubt some teams and athletes don’t get the attention they deserve from time to time. I’ll take your note as a reminder that we could always do better, and will share that thought with our editors, who make coverage decisions.
I do like your suggestion of honoring coaches too, especially the volunteers. I will recommend the idea to our newsroom. Making selections could be tough, given that so much of coaches’ work is done out of the spotlight. But there must be a way of developing a fair standard. I would appreciate your thoughts on a good method.
Thank you for taking the trouble to write.
Allen Parsons/Publisher

From a Star-Banner Reader:

Dear Mr. Parsons,
Thank you for reinstating the television insert. I find it very helpful and convenient to have all the tv listings in one place. I know that you must constantly weigh cost versus benefit. I also know that many people have advanced television capabilities so that they can see what is coming up on their screen. However, for those of us who do not, the television listings are great.
Thanks again. I appreciate all your organization is doing to keep the Banner alive and vibrant in our community.
Name Withheld

My Reply:

Dear Name Withheld:
Many thanks for the thoughtful and encouraging note. You made my day.
I’m pleased to hear that you like the restored TV listings in Thursday’s editions. As you diplomatically note, newspapers in this down economy, now more than ever, must weigh costs versus benefits. I’m optimistic that many readers will share your sentiments and place a similar premium on this content.
Again, thank you.
Allen Parsons/Publisher

From A Reader:
Why is this article not on the front page: http://www.ocala.com/article/20091106/OPINION/911059953?tc=autorefresh

My Reply:

Mary:
Thank you for your inquiry.
The article you asked about was an editorial. The Star-Banner tries not to mix editorial opinion and news pages. We think it’s cleaner to keep them separate. Since the front page is for news, editorials don’t fit there.
I infer from your question that you think the editorial’s subject — downtown development — was worthy of the front page. I agree. I am pleased to point out that just about all the developments mentioned in the editorial (demolition of the Chamber of Commerce office, relocation downtown by two high-tech firms, streetscaping of Silver Springs Boulevard, and expansion of parking) already have appeared on A1 in the Star-Banner.
I hope you will continue to see more such stories in the future.
Allen Parsons/Publisher

From A Star-Banner Reader:
Mr. Parsons,
For the last three weeks I have not been able to find the ethicist column in your Sunday paper. You have a bunch of Ads for the column but I have gone through every page and cannot find the article. If I did not also get the St Petersburg Times I would not be able to read the column. Can you tell me what page and section it was in yesterday?
Thank you,
Name Withheld

My Reply:
Sir:
My apologies. I’m not sure what has kept Randy Cohen’s column out of the Star-Banner recently. But I’m forwarding your inquiry to our newsroom for an answer. Editors make the selections of what does and doesn’t run.
I should point out that Mr. Cohen’s column appears in The New York Times Magazine each Sunday, which also can be found online. Yesterday’s column is at this link: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/18/magazine/18FOB-ethicist-t.html?ref=magazine. Of course, I hope you also will see the column back in the Star-Banner.
Allen Parsons/Publisher

An Ocala.com User Writes:
Mr. Parson,
I wanted to write you to make you aware of your web site. I am a business owner in Orlando and spend much of my time in Leesburg and the general area.
Ocala.com is absolutely not organized at all. The person or people doing your web site I feel are NOT making your site user friendly, nor are they making it simple, boxed off, etc.   I hope you will take a hard look at your hits on the site, compared to other sites.  You will see that other sites are producing more results, have larger advertisers, and are simply doing a better job at organizing their sites, ultimately making more money.  Please, take a look around http://orlando.bizjournals.com/orlando/ , http://www.miamiherald.com , http://www.orlandosentinel.com , http://www.palmbeachpost.com , to name a few.  You will be doing Ocala a huge favor by making your city look professional and organized.
I look forward to seeing some changes, so I can make a little more sense of things there. I plan on expanding my business there and hope to utilize your website to assist me.
Respectfully,
Name Withheld

My Reply:
Sir:
Many thanks for taking the trouble to share your thoughts on Ocala.com.
In defense of the site, I should say that year-over-year traffic growth continues to track at better than 20%, and extensive usability testing has produced encouraging findings.
Still, everything can be improved. I would appreciate hearing of specific problem areas you find troublesome. It would give our web designers something to consider.
Meantime, thank you for your interest in Ocala.com. I’m sure, if you do advertise on the site, you will be pleased with the broad reach it provides into the community.
Allen Parsons/Publisher

From A Community-Minded Activist

Hi Allen.
I hear that you have been very busy. I have not heard anything about Community With A Heart for this year and was wondering if the StarBanner was going to do it again for this holiday season. It truly is needed so I hope plans are underway. If you are not planning on doing it, I have an idea I would like to bounce off of you if you have 10 minutes or so for us to get together. The best way to reach me is this e-mail or my personal cell phone at xxx-xxxx. Thanks.
Name Withheld

My Reply:

Name Withheld,
Sorry to be slow in replying. I’m still checking into how we could make Community With A Heart go this year.
Would love to discuss your ideas for alternatives, though.
When is good for you?
Allen

He’s Ticked

Thursday, November 5, 2009 at 1:38 by 

From An Inquirer:

In the past year, I have emailed various people at this paper, with not one response. It is no wonder that your circulation is declining so much! You obviously don’t give a Rat’s Ass about your subscribers!
Wishing You a Wonderful Day,
Name Withheld

My Reply:
Sir:
My apologies for the lack of prior responses. If you posed a question, we should have answered.
Is there something I can help you with presently?
Allen Parsons/Publisher

From a Forum Reader:

TO: Allen Parsons

Mr Parsons,
I am quite appalled to read in your paper a very racial statement made in your forum about Mr Herbert Coleman. He was a real pillar in our community and it’s sad that in this day and age someone would be so ignorant to make such a statement like the one in your paper, but even more so for you to put it in print.
Please remove it as there will be others hurt by it as well.
Thank you for your cooperation in this matter,
Name Withheld

My Reply:
Linda:
Thank you for taking the trouble to share your concerns regarding a regrettable forum posting.
I assume you are addressing the comment that appears to endorse violence. I hadn’t seen the posting and, like you, am appalled.
I’m asking our online staff to remove the offending message as soon as possible today.
It is, of course, impossible to prevent people from expressing such thoughts. But it is within our power to refuse to tolerate it.
Allen Parsons/Publisher

From a Would-Be Columnist:

To: Publisher/Editor
I am a veteran author/writer, and would appreciate your consideration of utilizing and featuring my literary work via a weekly column.
A degree of my work is of an anecdotal/humorous nature.
If you do not currently have a paying writing position available at your publication, I would still welcome the opportunity to serve as a regularly featured writer in exchange for an editorial byline at the end of each of my columns.
As such, I have enclosed a link to my Bio, as well as enclosed several of my writing samples below for your review.
In advance, thank you.
Name Withheld

My Reply:
Sir,
Thank you for your interest in the Ocala Star-Banner. I’m forwarding your inquiry to newsroom editors, who make the decisions about content.
I’m afraid I can’t be very encouraging. We tend to take on very few new columnists, and the humor genre has many competitors. But, as Wayne Gretzky always said, you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take, so who knows?
In any event, best of good luck with your column.
Allen Parsons/Publisher

A Michigan Prison Secretary Writes:
I am with the Michigan Department of Corrections and I am trying to locate an article that you published on August 24, 2007. It was titled “Prisons suspend special meals for Jews, Muslims.” Is there a way that you can e-mail that article to me?

Name Withheld

My Reply:

Dear Name Withheld:

Hope that helps.

Allen Parsons/Publisher

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