CNJ looking for comic-conscious readers

David Stevens

Does Beetle Bailey bug you?
Is Hagar horrible?
Should the Wizard of Id turn himself into Zack Hill or some other more contemporary comic strip?
Comics can be among the most popular features in a newspaper. They can also grow stale with time.
We’re thinking about making changes to our daily comics in the Clovis News Journal. We’re looking for about six readers who want to help us. The committee will work with editors and associates to revamp the lineup.
No, this doesn’t have anything to do with the recent B.C. controversy in which our paper opted not to publish a strip that included potentially offensive language.
We’ve been thinking about comics changes for more than a year.
Our Sunday lineup will be difficult to alter since we’re in a 125-paper group that’s ruled by majority vote. But the daily offerings can be swapped as often as we like, with one month’s notice to the distributor.
The last time the CNJ asked readers to help us establish content changes, the topic was obituaries.
A committee of three Clovis residents helped rewrite our obituary policy in the summer of 2002. Since then, the number of complaints related to obits has been dramatically reduced.
So now we’re asking for help with the comics.
It’s not that we’re receiving a lot of complaints about comics. We almost never receive any feedback at all on them. That makes me wonder if anybody is reading them.
The best way to find out if readers like a regular newspaper feature is to remove that feature and see what happens. That’s also a good way to lose your editor’s job.
No, I think a better idea would be to involve readers in any potentially controversial decisions, especially when those decisions don’t have to be made on deadline.
We’re not asking a few readers to vote yes or no on specific comics and then take the heat if anybody gets mad about the change. Newspaper editors will ultimately make any decisions on content.
But we are asking readers to work with the editor and one of our associates — Ben Kessler is a page designer and comics page fan — to help us publish comics that will interest our readers.
Maybe we will publish a comics survey and see what a lot of readers think before deciding anything. Or maybe we will all agree everything on the comics page is relevant to the times and has a following among the majority of readers and we don’t need to change a thing. Or maybe we’ll kill one strip and use the space for a series of trial strips, to see which ones readers like the most.
We won’t know what we’ll do until we form the committee and talk about the comics.
Interested?
Give me a call or send me an e-mail. The contact information is at the bottom of this column.
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As for B.C., the strip scheduled to run next week made reference to Asian characters who failed in efforts to build a working airplane. The final frame included a line we felt could be offensive to some — “Two Wongs don’t make a Wright.”
While our newspaper can routinely offend some readers — sometimes on purpose, especially when we state our conservative views on the editorial page — we objected to the racial overtones in this case.
We don’t mind making fun of politicians or public policies or any number of factions or ideas we disagree with. Spurring public debate and thoughtful consideration can lead to better politicians, better public policies and better ideas that improve our communities.
While some readers think we overreacted to the comments in B.C., I would not feel comfortable trying to defend the punch line.
“Yes, sir,” I can see myself explaining to an unhappy reader, “we published that cartoon because … ummmm … we … ummmm … thought it might some day lead to better Asian airline manufacturers.”
Yeah, right. It’s a cheap laugh at the expense of a race of people and it’s not worth defending.
I have a hard enough time explaining why we can’t spell all the words right in our headlines. At least we don’t make those mistakes on purpose.

David Stevens is editor for Freedom Newspapers of New Mexico. He can be contacted at 1-800-819-9925. His e-mail address is:
david_stevens@link.freedom.com