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April 27, 2006

The News in The News

John W. Ashbury

There is always something special about the people and the place that gave you your first job in the profession you choose to follow for most of your adult life. And so it is with The Frederick News-Post, though the names have been changed.

William T. Delaplaine, Jr., “Mr. Will,” will always be someone whose memory remains fond and distinctive. He took a chance and – because of that – opened the path to a career which has been wonderful, sad, happy, boring, exhilarating, productive and addictive. Of course, for anyone who has ever spent time in journalism, it has not been lucrative.

George Birely Delaplaine, Jr., as publisher of those newspapers for most of the past 40 years, has been an inspiration. While the idea of any newspaper holding fast to a long list of “sacred cows” is abhorrent, that policy came from an old and long standing tradition, evolved in different times; and slowly added to the trash heap. It changed before the papers were sold to The Randall Family LLC.

George Jr., as most everyone knows him even today, took a down-home, twice daily, small town newspaper and turned it into a giant, not only in the Frederick community, but across the state. And he did it usually with a small, though professional, staff in the newsroom.

However, those who served in those newsrooms, people like Bob Harper and Bill Board, and especially Tom Mills and Marge Fouché, were always people who cared about Frederick, about journalism, and about making the newspapers they served the best they could be. They didn’t always succeed, but they always tried, and gave it their finest effort.

With the demise of The Great Southern Printing and Manufacturing Company, Inc., The Frederick News-Post took a different direction. The people, with the exception of the chairman of the board of The Randall Family LLC – Frances Delaplaine Randall – had little experience in the newspaper business.

George Randall, who sadly died much too young, had a background in business and the law. He wasn’t a journalist, nor did he ever claim to be. It showed in the product. He was quiet to distraction to outsiders, and he always seemed more interested in things other than “the news.” That may be unfair to some extent, but that is the perception among all too many old time, long time Fredericktonians.

With his passing, his brother Myron, has grabbed the reins and is taking a strong hold on them. He is making steady progress, what with the recent ground breaking for a new corporate headquarters for the company, and the installation of new presses, the first in nearly 40 years.

But, along the way good people have fallen by the wayside – forced into retirement or employment elsewhere. No one in the newsroom now has institutional knowledge going back more than 20-odd years. It shows in the columns of the newspaper where simple, factual errors appear frequently. And sometimes when errors are pointed out to the editors, they remain uncorrected in later editions. They claim to know Frederick better than the people who pay attention all the time, and have done so for several generations.

The editors, who put the paper together, apparently don’t talk to each other about the content they are running, as sometimes a locally generated story will contradict a wire service report – and vice versa.

It now appears that The Frederick News-Post is taking a major step in the direction of quality news content. It was announced recently that Denise Cabrera, a former bureau chief of The Associated Press in Baltimore, will become executive editor next Monday (May 1).

Her credentials are exceptional. Besides her Baltimore position, she has worked for the Washington Bureau of the AP, The Washington Times, for NBC News in DC, and for a television news magazine called “1986.”

She will “stir the pot,” as Blaine Young says frequently on his WFMD show “Frederick’s Forum.” She will increase the paper’s visibility on The Web and in the community as she seeks to instill in the reporters and editors a pride so often lacking in today’s product.

It is easy today to skip pages 2,3 and 4 because the wire service news on those pages is usually a day or two old and when you read three newspapers everyday, you have already seen those stories.

In provincial Frederick, Ms. Cabrera can expect some problems – first because she is black, and second because she is a woman. Around here the old timers are slow to change, and she should not expect everyone to treat her as she should be treated, regardless of her color or sex.

Then, again, Frederick has changed – what with so many “foreigners” occupying what was once our gorgeous, rural countryside. We have been growing houses as our primary crop for the past quarter century and the makeup of our community is far different from the days of bucolic splendor.

So, we old news hounds are looking forward to the coming months, if for no other reason than the expectation that things at The Frederick News-Post will be changing – and for the better. Maybe – just maybe – Ms. Cabrera will insist on the accuracy of stories within its pages. And maybe – just maybe – she’ll squash the prima-donnas in her midst.

We shall see, won’t we?

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