Taking Stock

ERNEST F. IMHOFF

January 03, 1993|By ERNEST F. IMHOFF

This is a story with a happy ending because when readers complained, The Sun listened.

Willard Schein used to rack up 30,000 miles a year driving an another 30,000 air miles as a salesman of furniture and luggage in five states. After two bypass surgeries, he retired to his Baltimore county home for a more leisurely life with his wife, Barbara. His eyes continued to fly over the Sun stock pages to find his 20 stocks in a daily routine "my wife says helps keep my mind sharp."

Last Aug. 18, his eyes slowed to a crawl. The problem wasn't hi eyes but a new Sun stock consolidation of three markets -- the New York, American and NASDAQ exchanges -- into one single table designed to be more useful.

It wasn't, partly because editors couldn't make the new typ (Franklin Gothic) look as clear as they wanted or as the stocks had looked in the old type (Techno Book).

The consolidation offered less daily information but was part of new package that offered up to 10 more columns of news stories, a complete wrap-up of stocks Saturday, an expanded list of 3,000 mutual funds Sunday and "The Back Page," a new summary of market statistics. Most readers liked the other changes. "It's absolutely great", Mr. Schein said of The Back Page.

The new single stock list, they hated. "It seemed like 3,00 stocks there. [Actually more than 5,000]. I couldn't find my 20 any more," Mr. Schein said. "The new type face was harder to see. Each stock also had less information. The Sun dropped the New York Exchange's highs and lows, the price/earnings ratio, the dividend and the yield.

"I like to chart the day's action, but it showed only the closing. I you're looking at a growth stock, for instance, you need things like the dividend but you can't wait until the Saturday stocks to find out. It may be too late. The new stocks were a step backward."

He was not alone. More than 1,100 readers complained to m and my assistant, Tammy Hoffer, almost 500 in live phone talks, others in voice mail messages and letters. Hundreds more told the business news department. It was the biggest outcry of the year against The Sun. Most callers were older people who enjoyed checking their stocks daily.

The newspaper decided soon it had made what one edito admitted to the staff was "a terrible mistake." Editors decided within weeks to correct the stocks including separating the three exchanges. Other matters were also pressing, and the fix took what another editor called "the great circle route."

Also on editors' plates were the new expanded coverage in th counties starting Sept. 28, its complicated new production lTC demands, the urgency of the presidential election and the on-going internal newsroom realignments in a year of change.

"We also wanted to make absolutely sure we got it right this time," editor John S. Carroll explained. So editors ran lots of tests of stocks in different type faces and sizes. Technical snags developed when editors tried to interface the new Associated Press-transmitted stock figures with typesetters here.

Bill Schein called me four more times. Weeks passed, and we became friendly. "So how are the new stocks doing?" he laughed. "You really going to change them?" We replied, "Yes, sir. Just a little bit longer." He was more friendly than many callers.

Now, here's the good news. Because you readers fought back, editors think we'll shortly have better stocks than most newspapers in the country and better than any here before.

On Tuesday, Jan. 12, The Sun and The Evening Sun will begin printing three daily tables Tuesday through Friday in 6-point Helvetica type, a bigger, clearer and easier-to-read typeface with more spacing. More data will be reported. All stocks in any exchange will continue to be listed as The Sun has been doing, not just the most active, as in many others.

As before Aug. 17, The New York Exchange will have the 52-week hi-low, dividend, yield, price/earnings ratio, sales volume, daily high-low, close and change. More complete than before Aug. 17, the American exchange and NASDAQ will have the 52-week high-low, dividend, price/earnings ratio, daily sales, close and change.

The ticker symbol will disappear from the daily lists but the complete weekend Saturday stocks, also in the larger type, will include it for those wishing to call SunDial. The busy telephone service logs 50,000 stock calls a week. The Sunday mutuals list is unaffected.

In retrospect, Mr. Carroll said "Our slogan in 1992 was the Governor's, 'Do it Now.' In 1993, our slogan will be 'Do it right.' "

Bill Schein saw a copy of the new stocks. "Thanks for listening. It's very nice. The Helvetica type is far superior to the other typefaces. The layout is exactly right. I think my friends will love it." We hope so.

Ernest Imhoff is readers' representative for The Baltimore Sun.

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