A newspaper's image is constantly evolving, reflecting changes in the community it serves and readers' reactions to the things it does.
In recent weeks, The Sun has received a storm of reader reaction to reductions and changes in the Today and Business sections - a popular crossword feature, two popular columns and some comics were eliminated, among other moves. Editors faced difficult decisions about content in the newspaper and made the changes primarily because of required budget cuts.
A highly visible news section error and production problems have also fueled reader dissatisfaction.
As 40-year subscriber Juanita Wagner of Fallston said: "The recent changes have diminished my enjoyment of The Sun. I miss the Sun crossword, which I have done for 20 years. Although my opinion surely means nothing to the Sunpapers, I will voice it anyway."
But Sun editors were listening.
The Sun crossword will return to the Today section tomorrow. "Phantom" and "Apartment 3-G" will be reinstated to the comics pages the same day.
Mike Himowitz's column on technology and Fred Rasmussen's column on Baltimore history also will return to The Sun this week. The New York Times crossword puzzle will remain in the paper but will move to the Automotive advertising section.
The "Doonesbury" and "Boondocks" comic strips will move from the Today section to the Opinion/Commentary page, except on Sundays. This move reflects a trend in newspapers to place politically and socially controversial comics on the opinion pages.
"We listened and we responded," said Editor Tim Franklin. "We recognize that these changes will not be satisfying to everyone, but we've seriously and sincerely tried to address the biggest concerns we've heard from readers over the last month."
Early reader response to these decisions has been very positive.
"You just saved a subscriber," said Rose Jones of Bel Air. "I'm a dyed-in-the-wool Republican and think your newspaper is too liberal. The only reason I buy it is for the crossword puzzle."
Bernadette Bowen said: "People will be thrilled, just as I am. The crossword puzzle keeps your mind sharp. Even though I don't like some of the changes in the comics, I can live with it now that the Sun crossword puzzle is coming back."
Finding space in the paper for all the features readers want can be a hurdle, but it is nothing compared to the challenge of protecting the paper's reputation by avoiding serious error.
On Jan. 7, The Sun made a damaging error when it published an obituary of Samuel T. Daniels, a noted civil rights leader, businessman and a major force in Baltimore's African-American community, accompanied by a photo of someone else. The next day, The Sun ran corrections on Pages 2A and 1B and reprinted the obituary with a photo of Mr. Daniels.
The error occurred when an editor misread information attached to negatives of a group photo, from which the individual photo of Mr. Daniels was cropped. Once another man's photo (Charles G. Tildon Jr.) was mistakenly picked, no one in the editing process noticed that it was not Mr. Daniels.
Harry S. Johnson, president of the Maryland State Bar Association, believes The Sun has too few journalists with a memory of Baltimore and the region's history to catch such errors. "Some system at the paper had to break down in a serious way in order for this major mistake to have occurred," he said.
"I know this was not intentional in any way, but it hurts the families, the community and the newspaper," said Catherine Pugh. Another reader said: "How could The Sun not understand what a prominent and great man Sam Daniels was?"
The newspaper did recognize Mr. Daniels' importance. Veteran reporter Jacques Kelly, who knew Mr. Daniels was gravely ill, had already prepared background material and began calling prominent Baltimore leaders for comment the moment he heard that Mr. Daniels had died. But the wrong photo undermined The Sun's best efforts.
Occasionally, not just content but how the paper is printed becomes a reader target. Several readers expressed frustration with inadequate printing of some pages last week. "Basically, it was so light that you can't read it," said reader Steve Kowalewski, referring to a page in his Thursday edition.
The Sun, which has won some recent awards for print quality, takes such complaints seriously. Sun pressroom manager John Frahm said, "I appreciate the fact the readers are disappointed when we don't execute properly. We always try to quickly determine what went wrong and fix it. We will work to make it right for readers."
It is important for The Sun to apologize for mistakes. It is even more important that the newspaper periodically examine its editing and production procedures to find flaws in systems that are causing the problems.
It is essential that the newspaper listen to its readers, especially when they express unified opinions in significant numbers.
One reader said of the return of the Sun crossword puzzle and the two columnists: "It's the best news I've heard in a long time. It is great that the newspaper listened to us."
Said another: "This will keep my marriage intact, because each of us will again have a crossword puzzle to do every morning. This is the key to marital harmony."
Paul Moore's column appears on Sundays.