Answering Reader Questions

Ombudsman

August 09, 1992|By ERNEST F. IMHOFF

A few weeks ago, a reader called photographer Barbara Haddock about her picture of novelist Terry McMillan gracing an interview by Alice Steinbach. The reader wasn't interested in the photographer, writer or subject.

She wanted to know where the picture was taken so she could buy the wallpaper in the background. The answer was a Washington hotel.

Readers have other questions, not all of them off the wall.

Question: How much of The Sun is recycled?

Answer: We project that 16 percent of our paper will be made from recycled fibers this year (state law requires 12 percent). We hope to exceed 20 percent next year. The Sun also recycles or reclaims ink, press plates, photo fluids, office wastepaper, beverage cans, laser-printer cartridges, motor oil and petroleum-based wastes. Among other things, The Sun has given more than $200,000 in advertising space to promote area recycling centers.

Q: Who will The Sun endorse for president in November?

A: I have no idea but for readers who make bar bets, here is the recent Sun editorial history: In the March 3 Maryland primaries, we backed Bush and Tsongas. In general elections of 1988 and 1984, The Sun endorsed no candidate. In 1980, The Sun backed Carter. In 1976, Ford. In 1972 and 1968, Nixon. In 1964, Johnson. In 1960, Nixon. In five presidential elections before that, Republicans. In 1936, no one. For a number of years before that, Democrats.

Q: Who writes the headlines?

A: Not the writers, but about 70 copy editors. Typically, they may get 20 minutes to read and question a story, correct it if needed, code it for length, width, type size etc. for the computer/typesetter, write a headline and send it on. They double as proof-readers. Most copy editors get 12-18 stories on a shift.

Q: Why did The Evening Sun cut out "It's Your Call," the phone-in feature inviting readers to answer a question?

A: People felt the non-scientific "poll" could be (and probably was) easily manipulated on controversial questions by piling on top of one side or the other. As an example, the paper felt the governor's press secretary helped load up a May answer after a question on the governor's appointment of his chief bodyguard as state police boss. The feature died soon after.

Q: Why didn't The Sun use the names of all recent MacArthur winners, new National Academy of Science members and Baltimore Foundation Award winners?

A: It should have; people are always interested in winners. The Evening Sun did list the MacArthurs several days late. In July, both papers did list the Carnegie Heroes. I hope we see more in the future.

Q: Why do you use letters to the editor without sometimes using ellipses to show readers that parts have been cut out (usually for space reasons)?

A: The editorial department plans to start using ellipses again soon, a common practice once.

Q: The movie listings are confusing, listing theaters by companies rather than by the theaters themselves. Why not go to simple alphabetical listings?

A: Confused readers are right. We are working out details to make the list easier to use.

Q: Why can't I get a Saturday night Oriole game and box score in my Sunday Sun home edition if the game is over at a decent hour?

A: Editions of The Sunday Sun go to press earlier than other nights because of their size and number. The new Sun Park will allow some readers to receive a later edition. When a new press begins operating in late 1993, still more readers will get later papers.

Q: Why can't I use my old rotary phone for SUNDIAL? It's discrimination.

A: Technically, it would be roughly like black and white TV carrying color pictures, says SunDial's Karen Stabley. It is impossible (except with a converter) because it doesn't issue activating pulses as the costlier touch-tone phones do.

Q: Why do we see some of the same people all the time in The Sunday Sun's society picture layouts?

A: One reason is that the social event must be a charity, not just a party. The same people often volunteer. Happily, minorities -- not too long ago virtually excluded -- and smaller groups are now part of the mix. Represented Aug. 2 were Army, African-American, Indo-American, Salvation Army and sailing groups. Persons may request photos by calling or writing the People editor.

Another Q and A bag on another day.

Ernest Imhoff is The Baltimore Sun's readers' representative.

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