Tales from the Crypt: How the digital navigator got lost in the past

Rather than dealing with issues about newsroom ethics or journalistic independence, this week’s Ombudsman column grows out of another aspect of being the readers’ representative: getting answers to questions about how things work at Stripes and stripes.com.

Online today and in print on Friday, the column pulls back the curtain on the programs that automatically assemble “navigation aids” on the website, such as those “Most Read,” “Emailed” and “Hot Topics” lists. And explains -- or sometimes, can only make a good guess – how a story from deep in the archives gets to be a “Hot Topic” today.

The Inbox: How does an old story become 'Most Read' today?

 Knowing what other readers find interesting can be an efficient (or just entertaining) guide for sorting through the day’s news on a website. So what’s that story from last month doing in the “Most Read” or “Hot Topics” list? Or that letter to the editor from 2010? Or that story from 2005?

That’s what Stripes reader Jerry White of Nellis AFB, Nevada, asks in today’s installment of The Inbox:

Beyond Doonesbury: Balance is about much more than comics

This week’s Ombudsman column is about balanced coverage on a continuing news story that’s especially important to servicemembers, veterans and their families: Are they being ripped off when they use the education benefits they earned under the Post-9/11 GI Bill?

Crystal Hicks of Fayetteville, N.C., says Stripes opinion pages have had too many pieces in favor of for-profit career colleges and not enough about some of those schools’ poor records of job placement, high student debt and incomplete degrees.

The Inbox: What happened to Doonesbury?

 One of my chief responsibilities as Ombudsman is to represent Stars and Stripes readers’ interest in the newsroom’s journalistic performance, so I’ll regularly use this space to respond to readers’ emails and online comments. I’ll keep it short here on the blog, but sometimes an issue will become the basis for a regular column – which I hope will generate even more give-and-take.

The Inbox lately has hummed with concerns – let’s even say accusations – that Stripes engaged in censorship by not running the Doonesbury comic strip satirizing state legislatures that are imposing mandatory ultrasound requirements on women seeking abortions. You can look back at the strip via the archive on the Doonesbury website. Here’s a sample of readers’ comments, followed by my response.

What's so funny about the funny pages?

Here's a link to the Ombudsman column I posted today after checking for gags about religion in the Stripes daily comics pages. The column is in Friday's print editions. 

Thanks to Army Capt. Brian Kovacic in Qatar, who raised the question after he saw a pattern he didn't like in Stripes' comics. 

Column preview: Comics and religion

Humor in every form has a way of finding dangerous ground, especially when it comes to taste, politics -- and especially religion. 

After a deployed captain emailed that Stripes' comics pages had been on a streak of offensive comics about religion, the newsroom and I took a closer look.  

You decide: Do these candidates look tough or sour? Or something else?

 My column on Friday focused on how Stripes editors handled photos of the Republican primary candidates over a full month.  A reader thought too many of the images showed them "sour-faced."  Tallying up all the appearances in February, I concluded the photos followed news events and showed good news judgment -- and that the meaning behind the candidates' expressions depended on the eye of the beholder. 

Here's an example of a page with Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum side by side. The photos are from their speeches at the Conservative Political Action Committee showcase. Do they look tough? Or determined? Or sour? Or something else? 

Gay Marine homecoming photo: Fair play?

In the world of digital journalism, it’s easy to tell when a letter to the editor really strikes a nerve. Howls erupt in the readers’ comments. Today’s example is this letter to the editor about this March 3 news photo that showed a gay Marine in his partner’s arms at a homecoming after a six-month deployment in Afghanistan.

As I post this, the letter has attracted 234 comments, and climbing. On the stripes.com home page, it’s still ranked “Most read” and “Hot topic” more than a day after it was published.

By the numbers: One month of candidate photos

Here's a chart that shows how  many times President Obama and each Republican candidate appeared in photos and editorial cartoons in Stripes last month.


I'm not surprised to find that the president appeared the most, and that the Republican candidates tally up in the same order as they’ve performed in the primaries: Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and then Ron Paul.  

Stripes' scorecard on candidate photos

The long Republican primary process has given Stars and Stripes an early start on the special scrutiny from readers that comes with covering politics, with much more to follow when the presidential election itself begins.

Based a question from Colleen Bishop of Camp Zama, Japan, I decided to look at the 29 editions published in February and see what the scorecard would say.

The raw numbers – the times the president and each candidate appeared – track the news: Obama appears the most, and Republican candidates appear in the same order as they’ve performed in the primaries: Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and then Ron Paul.

In my column in Friday's paper (and at stripes.com on Thursday), I'll lay out the details and explain why I soon gave up on keeping a “sour-face index.”

But there are lessons to be learned from the numbers -- and I expect more questions to follow.

Candidate photos strike a (real) balance

After more than 30 years covering politics, I wasn’t surprised that the first question I heard from a Stripes reader involved the presidential election. Colleen Bishop of Camp Zama, Japan, had been comparing photos and cartoon images of the Republican primary candidates and President Obama for a week or so, and thought the Republicans were getting the worst of it. To her, they appeared sour or angry, where the president looked happy. Read her letter, which Stripes published on Feb. 17, here.

I looked back at Stars and Stripes editions in February to make my own scorecard. That will be the focus of my Ombudsman column in the paper on Friday (and at stripes.com on Thursday).

NY Times: Search is on for alternatives to Stripes' Fort Meade move

The New York Times carried a useful roundup about the Fort Meade move on Saturday, by Times reporter Thom Shanker. A search for alternative space seems to be in the works Here's a link:

Two quotes in the story frame the issue:

Readers comment on Fort Meade column

Interesting comments on my column on why the Stars and Stripes central office shouldn’t be co-located with Defense Media Activity’s main command-directed production center at Fort Meade. Some support the move. Some object to it. Some of the objections actually make my point. I’ll take up a sample and respond here on the blog, in the spirit of give and take. You can read all the comments here. (Just scroll to the bottom.) Please add your own comments, at the bottom of the column or here on the blog.

Considering how commonly online comments descend into rants and vulgarity, let me note right away how impressively civil and rational these have been.


Tobias Naegele

Stars and Stripes ombudsman

Over 30 years as a journalist, Tobias Naegele has focused almost exclusively on military and defense issues, headed up the Military Times newspapers — Army Times, Navy Times, Air Force Times and Marine Corps Times — from 1998 to 2014, establishing Marine Corps Times as its own distinct product during that time. Prior to then, he was editor of Navy Times, where he created its weekly Marine Corps Edition.

From 2004 to 2014, he was editor in chief of the Military Times products as well as Defense News, Armed Forces Journal, Federal Times, and a number of other magazines and websites, including Military Times Faces of the Fallen and its Hall of Valor, along with the weekly syndicated TV program This Week in Defense News with Vago Muradian. Under his leadership, the newsroom was consistently recognized with awards from the Associated Press Managing Editors, Online News Association, Society of Professional Journalists, American Business Press Editors, Military Writers and Editors, White House Correspondents Association and more.

Tobias Naegele can be reached at naegele.tobias@stripes.com or (202) 761-0587.

The ombudsman

Congress created the post in the early 1990’s to ensure that Stars and Stripes journalists operate with editorial independence and that Stars and Stripes readers receive a free flow of news and information without taint of censorship or propaganda.

The ombudsman serves as an autonomous watchdog of Stars and Stripes’ First Amendment rights. Anyone who fears those rights are imperiled should alert the ombudsman.

The ombudsman is also the readers’ representative to the newsroom. Readers who think a journalistic issue or event was misrepresented or ignored or who feel complaints were not properly addressed by Stripes reporters or editors should contact the ombudsman.