Sunday, May 27, 2012

Disappointment That Fortunately Does Not Represent Henderson

My writerly crush on The Henderson Press has come to a sad end. At the beginning, it was justified. Jeremy Twitchell made Henderson's City Council come alive in ways that could make other city councils across the country wish they could be covered like this. He had such passion for policy and exchanges between each member of the council that made you feel like you were there. It was important because these were issues that affected the city at large, and he made sure readers knew. He was part of the first wave of earnest reporters that made The Henderson Press good from the start, if a bit shoddy in its construction as those behind it tried to figure out what it should look like. But if the design looked a little wonky, the writing never was. Oh sure, Fred Couzens got a little too cute in his articles, but give him an issue with a lot of technical details, like the Pittman Wash, or what the Regional Transportation Commission was up to with the bus system in Henderson and he could help you understand it as if you had come up with the policy yourself. Give him any bloated jargon by the representatives of any business that had things to attend to in Henderson and articles by him would appear that probably helped those representatives understand their own business better too. Between him and Twitchell, I felt like I was part of Henderson, deeply invested in it, even though I'm not there yet. Whether as a frequent visitor or resident, I'm still not sure yet, but I felt such a strong connection to the city because of those two.

And Don Logay. Don "Lake Las Vegas Booster" Logay. But whereas a booster will promote the heck out of something with overly flowery language, Logay had such a passion for Lake Las Vegas that he never showed outright. He preferred to let readers suss it out for themselves, as it should be since he was reporting on activities in Lake Las Vegas and impartiality should be the number one consideration. Because of him, I learned more about Lake Las Vegas than I had when I was near there, but not completely there, when I visited the Las Vegas Valley the past few times. Because of him, I want to walk those cobblestone streets and feel what he felt through those articles.

I don't know what the factors were that led to Twitchell's departure. I do know that he was interim editor for a time while a new editor was sought, and did The Henderson Press even have a regular editor when it started? I can't be sure because it was never listed in the masthead. Maybe Twitchell had overseen it all this time and this was the first time he was credited. When I was interim editor of the weekend Escape section of The Signal for five weeks, I didn't want the full-time job. I couldn't have the full-time job. I don't drive in the Santa Clarita Valley, which is important for gathering stories, and they wanted someone who did. I didn't mind because I hated the stress of the job. I could meet the deadlines, but with the exception of Tom, who worked with me, putting the section together for me and suggesting where each article should go, I got very tepid support. I heard not a peep from the editor nor the publisher, only when something had to be changed, and then I wasn't informed about that change until after the issue had been published. With a better support system, it would have been easier.

Perhaps Twitchell wanted to be the editor, and he was passed over, and didn't like that this was the respect he got after how much time and effort he devoted to the newspaper, and decided to leave. However, his wife had had a child in the meantime while also writing for the paper, so perhaps he wanted to spend more time with his family than with the paper. Understandable. But the transition from the Twitchell Era to what exists now was rough, and still is from the standpoint of Vol. 2, No. 37, dated November 10-16, 2011.

But I have to go back further, to a little after editor Carla J. Zvosec took over. Under Zvosec, the City Council is pushed nearly to the back of the newspaper under "Council Briefs," and, so far, they're only allowed at the front if there's something potentially scandalous, such as the resignation of City Attorney Elizabeth Quillin over three DUI misdemeanor charges. On hard news, she's a fine writer, but the newspaper is missing a lot.

For example, articles end awkwardly, such as with Don Logay's "Bettie Page Suits Henderson," in the August 11-17, 2011 issue about a couple bringing Bettie Page stores to the Las Vegas Strip and around the country. Logay ends the article "The Golden Age of Fashion is back . . . thanks to Khomyakova and Bettie Page." This is not Logay. And it is not up to Logay in an article like this to declare that, since it's a profile that should not smack of boosterism like that. Just write the profile on the couple and leave it to readers to decide what they think. I suspect it's more Zvosec's influence than Logay's decision on that one, and I wish Zvosec would stop trying to push readers like this. The story is enough without editorialization. If the story is lacking, then gather more information, or find an angle that allows a fuller story to be told.

Jenny Twitchell used to write great columns about her life as a parent. Zvosec's influence, in the same issue as Logay's article, pushed her to include where Moms with sudden time on their hands from kids going to school can find activities, such as book clubs, and knitting groups. She couldn't trust Twitchell to filter it through her own experience, to figure out what interests her and mention what she researched in the attempt? This is not the Jenny Twitchell whose columns I grew to like. This is Jenny Twitchell via Carla Zvosec. By this, I sense a distinct lack of trust in the writers and reporters.

That's not even the worst of it for me. An article by Lori Wilk in the September 8-14, 2011 issue (Vol. 2, No. 28) about PRISM, an on-the-job fatigue software system, to determine if employees are fatigued, has no local angle. Do any Henderson businesses use this sytem? We don't know. Is the Henderson Chamber of Commerce aware of this system and are any of its member businesses planning to use it? Wilk doesn't say. Has PRISM been presented to businesses in Henderson? We don't know that either. There is nothing in this article to tie it to Henderson. It's interesting on its own, but being that this is a community newspaper, everything in it should have a connection to Henderson.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal can't cover Henderson all the time. The Henderson Press is the greatest link its residents have to learning about what's going on, a closer look at all of that, no matter that it's a weekly paper. But besides the annoying boosterism, which makes articles seem more like press releases as written by The Henderson Press (See the article about Sweet Tomatoes Express opening in Henderson in the same issue as the Wilk article, as one of many examples), there are painful missed opportunities as well.

In the "Community Events" section in the September 22-28, 2011 issue (Vol. 2, No. 30), the "Hot Spot of the Week" event is "Rick's Cafe Americain featuring jazz vocalist Laura Shaffer," at the E-String Grill on West Sunset Road, billed as "a re-creation of the famed music and ambience of the movie Casablanca." Why wasn't there a story about this?! Casablanca is one of the greatest, most famous movies ever made, and there are so many local angles to pursue! Who is Laura Shaffer? How did she get involved in this? Did she create the program? How many times did she and her bandmates (if they are her bandmates) watch the movie in order to pin down the sound and how long did they rehearse until they got it right? What interested the E-String Grill in hosting this? Who brought this in? This is a story! And all it got was a spot in the community events calendar.

I've peeked at later issues, including the latest, May 24-30 (Vol. 3, No. 21), and I'm seeing more of the same. More boosterism at the expense of actual reporting. Boosterism only works if you show. I can't entirely fault Jamie Barnard, an editorial intern, over the article about The Lakeshore Learning Store, but this sentence bothers me: "Lakeshore Learning Store, located in the Warm Springs Promenade at 1243 W. Warm Springs Road in Henderson, offers fun and unique products that really get kids excited about learning." Foul! Editorializing, yet again. Don't tell it; show it. And this is probably nitpicking, but I'll chance it: I don't think "Henderson" needs to be listed in that sentence. The newspaper is called The Henderson Press. I think those who read this will know that the store is in Henderson by dint of it being in this paper.

As for Josh Morris's movie reviews, which look like they've been around for a bit, I can confidently say that I'm relieved that Josh Bell is still the film critic at Las Vegas Weekly. He's my tonic after reading Morris, who writes too much about the plot and not enough of his opinion, or even to thread his opinion throughout his description of the plot and characters, which should always be a mix of both. I can't fault him though. I used to be as bad as this. I hope he gets better.

Also, Henderson has an Historical Society that I'm sure The Henderson Press hasn't tapped yet. There's a steady stream of stories to explore, moreso than just the gray "Historical Henderson" box under the Sudoku puzzle.

I'm disappointed in what The Henderson Press has become. It used to not be able to get enough of Henderson. Through Twitchell, Couzens' easygoing nature with technical details, and Logay's deep interest in Lake Las Vegas, it always wanted more and more and more and wanted to give just that much to readers. It used to be inside Henderson. Now it feels like it's above Henderson, looking out at all the land, bored with it. Fortunately, The Henderson Press is not representative of the entire city because I know it's more interesting than it makes it out to be. It holds its own next to Las Vegas. To me, it's just as interesting. I wish The Henderson Press felt that way and returned to being as hungry as it used to be for stories. They're out there, and they should be filling space instead of press releases in the guise of articles.

Even with all my grievances, I am glad that The Henderson Press is around. The events calendar is at least interesting, and the paper should pay more attention to that too in order to find more stories. There are so many people to talk to, to interview, to find out what's going on and to bring more vibrancy to this city through these pages. Those opportunities should not go to waste. It's become complacent, too comfortable with itself. It should do more in the city than just existing. It doesn't feel like Zvosec is pushing this latest crop of reporters to get better at this, to find more interesting stories, to dig deeper, to try harder, to perhaps even get more excited about Henderson. However, I'll never stop hoping that it gets better.

But I just can't do it anymore. I can't read every issue from front to back, every article from beginning to end. I skim now, because it's about all I can stand to do. The only real use I've been getting out of it under the Zvosec Administration is the crime map in order to learn street names, because I want to find out why these are the names (See, Henderson Press? That could be an article or a few). Otherwise, I see what the Henderson Libraries are up to when there's an article about them, though I can be stopped dead in my tracks by a well-written article, which does happen at least once each issue. So there is that. But it used to be more than just once an issue.

The skimming gets me closer to starting on the 5,432 issues of Henderson Home News on the Henderson Libraries website. Henderson Home News is what there was from 1951 to 2009 and I will read all those issues. I wonder if Zvosec has looked into that history, explored what that paper was like all those decades ago, what people cared about back then. Some of those issues are present today. I looked at that first page of that first issue of Henderson Home News and there's a lot going on on that first page alone. The Henderson Press, even with 24 pages, should look to emulate that. I always say that if you can't write in Las Vegas, you should quit. There are just as many stories in Henderson. If local businesses continue to be profiled, then there should be more about what drives those business owners, what makes them passionate about what they do, what brought them to Henderson if they're relatively new. There was an article about a frozen popcorn business that dips briefly into how it's made, but nothing about what interested that owner in creating this business, how much time it took to perfect that process, or how they attained the materials necessary to start that exploration. Just those two words, "frozen popcorn," are enough to trigger such curiosity about how it all happened, and those details weren't even covered. Businesses are important in Henderson, but there should be more about the nuts-and-bolts of them. The right angle, one that goes deep, can produce a great story.

The Henderson Press should bring people together as much as the city does on its own. I hope it gets better somehow. There are so many chances for that. They need to take them. What's the worst that could happen? Increased circulation?

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