Local names and faces. A publisher at a former newspaper couldn't get enough of 'em. Each morning, I counted each name and face that appeared in that day's edition of the paper so I could tell him that, yes, we were hitting whatever number he had determined was appropriate -- I think it was 300.
It sounds ridiculous, but we were counting every name and face that we could find. It didn't matter if it the picture was the mayor's headshot, a crowd of people at a football game or a grainy still taken from security camera footage of a bank robbery -- if I could find two eyes, a nose and a mouth, it counted for the total.
Eventually, I grew to appreciate the exercise because it forced me and the rest of the newsroom to remember that our paper needed to be more than a good read. It had to be locally relevant to our readers.
We made it a point to shoot the Rotary Club fundraiser dinners and elementary school student-of-the-month ceremonies. We loved getting perfect attendance lists and Little League box scores.
It was scrapbook journalism at its scrappiest.
Of course, there's nothing novel about papers that practice such pedestrian reporting. Every small town has one. Or had one, anyway. But I think we found a happy medium. We still found time to cover the big stories. The counting exercise simply made us think harder about how those stories affected our readers. It forced us out of our comfort zones in our reporting as we talked to more people affected by those controversial city council decisions and other front page story staples. Really, it resulted in better and more well-rounded news coverage.