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How a Thanksgiving recipe that tastes better than being thin relates to newspapers

22 November 2010 · by Blaine Sundrud

Three special ingredients we should be adding to the newspaper success recipe to keep readers from pushing away from the table.

Thanksgiving is upon us, which for the United States means a massive feast designed to put a crimp in your belt size. Thanksgiving is my holiday.

Folks who have been to my house know that cooking the big holiday meal is something I live for. “Blaine's Famous Mashed Potatoes,” have been at the heart of our Thanksgivings. While the recipe leaves the folks at WeightWatchers reeling at the salad bars, my older daughter has declared that it “tastes better than being thin.”

Now, if you were hoping for a cooking column, you will have to wait to the end to actually get my elusive recipe. As I was getting ready to begin my culinary adventure, I was reminded that some things are better than being thin. As an industry, we have been on a drive to “get thin.” We've cut costs and reduced staffs everywhere we could. The need was clear but in some cases, we may have taken the need to reduce to unhealthy levels.

Here are three special ingredients I believe we should be adding to the newspaper success recipe to keep readers from pushing away from the table.

Add large dollops of editors to the newsroom

Since the dawn of the press, the ability of editors to tell writers when they are on to something solid, when they should scrap an idea, or when it needs more work has been the key to journalistic success. When we trim editors in an effort to cut costs often make the claim that they are being “more real.” What we end up with is “less polished.” Blogging is fine for fantasy football and household hints columns. Their opinions are all that really matter, so editorial oversight just slows down the process. But we need keep a high level of editorial discipline over our local reporting. Without experienced editors and fact checkers what we dish up will sound more like glorified press releases than good reporting.

Make it from scratch: don't just sift wire stories

Here is a news flash (and not a surprising one): If it comes off the wire, our readers have already read it before the paper hits their doorstep. Simply reprinting wire stories has become unnecessary and redundant. We need more original local reporting and analysis.

Case in point: I read Sports Illustrated every week. And here is the amazing thing. They don't print sports scores. Not a single one. They assume you already know the outcome of the games. SI makes its bread with the analysis and opinions of what happened. So why do our newsrooms continue to distance themselves from their own beliefs? Fox News certainly does not, and look what it has done for their viewership. Now please don't assume that I am saying “be like Fox News,” but it's OK to let readers hear what you think.

Like the microwave, a tabloid could come in handy

We all love convenience. I understand that even the great chefs use microwave ovens to speed the gourmet cooking process. I love reading the paper in the morning before I begin work. Reading it online is not the same for me. I want to slowly go through an entire paper. But I can't. My office has plenty of room in theory to spread out a paper, but put three computers, two monitors, phone systems, and more stacks of paperwork than my boss can track, and I don't have the room. But I do have room to sit back in my chair with a tabloid size edition.

Salt Lake Tribune, I am looking at you here. You are my personal paper of choice, and the minute you convert to tabloid, you will have this customer for life.

Tastes better than being thin

Adding these ingredients are not cheap. They require investments that go against the recent wave of chopping costs. But if we just keep hacking away at the body of our newsrooms, our readers will go away hungry because we gave them nothing to read.

Blaine's Famous Mashed Potatoes Recipe

For those of you who suffered through this whole diatribe, I offer a reward: my “Famous Mashed Potatoes.” A word of warning, there are no proportions here because I never measure in my kitchen. Proceed with caution, and let me know if you try it.

Step one: sauté the veggies:
Mushrooms (white or Portobello)
Sweet onions
Celery seed
Balsamic vinegar
Olive oil

Step two: boil potatoes
Yukon gold is best here. I peel the potatoes about 80%, but leave a bit of skin on dump the whole veggie mix into the water with the taters
Add whole mustard seed
Cook until potatoes smush easily

Step three: whip it up
Strain everything in the pot, then dump it all in a mixing bowl
While blending, add:
Cream cheese
Ranch dressing
Butter (yes, more butter)

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