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October 24th, 2004

Back to some normalcy...

The final word? Unless there are more Letters to the Editor about this article tomorrow. I'm not anticipating that, though. To me, this article seems a little placating.

A furor fit for our new post
By MELANIE SILL, Staff Writer

By coincidence on Thursday, we announced the appointment of Ted Vaden as The N&O's first public editor and the same day ignited the kind of controversy Vaden might tackle in his new job.

Dozens of calls, e-mail messages and subscription cancellations focused on a photograph, on the front of our Life, etc. section, that showed two gay men lounging on a bed working a crossword puzzle. The photo was part of a report on how local gay people view the furor over presidential campaign comments about Vice President Dick Cheney's daughter, who is a lesbian.

For just about every reader who called or complained, and probably for many who didn't get in touch, this photo was too intimate.

Some didn't like the portrayal of a gay relationship. Others simply didn't like seeing two people, regardless of sexual orientation, in their bedroom.

A theme of the complaints focused on children. Parents said they were forced by the photograph to explain homosexuality to youngsters.

We don't set out to offend or distress people, and clearly this reaction was far beyond anything we anticipated. We're always sorry when people think we let them down.

Several of us spent hours returning phone calls and e-mail messages, both explaining and listening. We'll be talking further about what we heard from callers and how we look at these decisions.

As I told many readers, we'll consider their criticisms and draw on this experience going forward. This isn't just talk. A newspaper involves a two-way conversation with readers, and we recognize our responsibilities and the need to consider the effect of our work.

We don't make news decisions with a social agenda in mind. My agenda as editor is to make sure we report vigorously, accurately and completely.

It's not likely that this response satisfied many critics, some of whom saw the photograph as part of an ongoing liberal social crusade.

When he begins as public editor in a few weeks, Vaden will have the opportunity to independently evaluate cases such as this -- situations in which our actions are being questioned by the public. He'll report directly to The N&O's president and publisher, Orage Quarles III.

Vaden, a former assistant managing editor at The N&O, most recently has been editor and publisher of The Chapel Hill News. (Brenda Larson takes over as publisher of The Chapel Hill News and The Cary News).

About 30 daily U.S. newspapers have public editors (also called ombudsmen or reader representatives). The positions offer the public a link to the paper removed one step from the newsroom or any other department.

Having a public editor doesn't lessen our responsibility to listen to critics. I'll continue writing my column, talking with readers and others in the community and listening and learning as I lead the newsroom.

Executive editor Melanie Sill may be reached at 829-8986 or msill@newsobserver.com.


We had breakfast at Courtney's today. I was going to use a buy one entree get a second entree free coupon, but before leaving noticed that the coupon wasn't valid "during Sunday brunch time -- 10:00 - 2:30PM." Oh well.

I had Pecan Pancakes, and Robert had a breakfast combo -- eggs, bacon, fried potatoes, and waffles.

The man at the table next to us went to the bathroom to wash his hands and came back saying his ring had slipped off his fingers and was down in the trap of the sink. He didn't seem overly concerned with it, but did ask them to take a look for it.

We bought the N&O on the way out to have a copy of the above article.

I worked on my homework -- creating prototypes of the CD cases we're going to use for the "Gender Game" for our group presentation at the end of November. I want to show the prototype when our group meets with Dr. Katz tomorrow evening.

I'm off to the library to read the three articles I'm supposed to read for our group. We each have three to read and we have to narrow the 9 down to 3 to get Dr. Katz's opinion on tomorrow.

While there, I will also read the article for Dr. Dicks' class on Tuesday. While out, I hope to stop by Michael's at Crossroads for some foam core (is that what it's called?) and some glue with which to make the prototype.

I still have some IBM work to do today, and would love to get to the TCW minutes, but it's looking grim right now.

Back from the library -- what a bust. The article that's supposed to be on reserve for Dr. Dicks could not be found by the library staff, so I didn't read that. Two of the three articles I needed to read were in the same volume, which was evidently still being "reshelved" from its last use -- probably by Tanya or Will. I found the other of the three articles, Woman as mediatrix: women as writers on science and technology in eighteenth and nieteenth centuries, but it defintely won't work as our "representative" article.

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