In the pages of the Daily Star-Journal, the people stand out

December 7, 2016

By Teri Saylor
Special to Publishers’ Auxiliary

In an age when editors are scrambling to do more with less, to cover all the news that’s fit to print with small staffs and shrinking resources, Jack “Miles” Ventimiglia chooses the scenic route and invites his readers along for the ride.

For years, Ventimiglia has been highlighting in bold the first reference to names of local folks on whom he reports in the pages of The Daily Star-Journal in Warrensburg, MO, and he knows of no other daily newspaper editor doing that. He admits his idea is not original, though. Somewhere along the way in his 36-year newspaper career, he came across a newspaper columnist who published people’s name in boldface.

“I just thought that was cool,” he said in a recent phone conversation. “I knew there were downsides to doing that, but compared to the upsides, I thought if he could display names in bold, maybe I could do it, too.”

In 2005, he tried it at a weekly where he was working at the time, and the practice quickly caught on. When he took over as editor of the Daily Star-Journal in 2008, he brought this practice along with him.

It was inconvenient at first. But in time, remembering to put names in boldface, hovering his mouse over the names and bolding them came easier. And although Ventimiglia knew this was not a traditional approach to journalism, he recognized that not all newspapers are traditional. After all, in today’s rough and tumble media landscape, adhering to tradition doesn’t always pay off.

He ultimately decided that any perceived inconvenience would be mild. And a practice that would have been nearly impossible using the old hot lead process became a breeze using modern digital publishing tools.

“I examined the value in making the names stand out and wondered, ‘Is this scary or is it good?’ ” he asked himself. “It’s scary for criminals, but politicians like it and so do everyday people. I ran one issue like that and looked at the front page and saw names in bold. They really popped out.”

Over time, he began seeing the benefits of doing this from his viewpoint as an editor.

“When I’m 10 graphs into an article, I can find the first reference to a name at the top easily,” he said. “Doing research using older stories, it’s easier to find the name of the person you’re looking for, when their names are in bold.”

For Ventimiglia, the only perplexing aspect of starting this practice was determining which names to publish in boldface. It wasn’t too long before he decided to set only human beings’ names that way. He also determined he would not put lists of names, such as high school graduates, in bold. He left display ads, classifieds and legal notices alone, as well.

Readers seem to like it, although feedback has been scant.

Ventimiglia was born and raised in Missouri and has never left. Although he has worked for newspapers in Illinois and Kansas, they were situated close enough to the state line that he was able to live in Missouri and commute over.

Growing up, Ventimiglia, who is color blind, wanted to be an artist, but he transferred his aspirations to journalism when his art teacher suggested he put painting on the shelf and take up writing instead.

As a teenager, he worked on the carnival circuit as a concessionaire and remembers long days spent assembling gaming booths in the mornings, then taking them down in the evenings before moving on to a new carnival destination.

He holds both a bachelor of arts degree and a master’s degree in mass communication from the University of Central Missouri. He started his career in 1982 with Journal Newspapers of Southern Illinois. In 2008, he joined the Daily Star-Journal, where he has worked as editor for the last eight years.

An award-winning journalist and editor, Ventimiglia has won both Journalist of the Year, and Editor of the Year with Suburban Newspapers of American, now called the Local Media Association.

The Daily Star-Journal, which started as a weekly on April 17, 1865, just days after the Civil War ended, grew over time into a daily newspaper. The changing marketplace and growth of digital media dictated a change in production. Today, the print edition is published three days a week, and the online version of the newspaper comes out daily, Ventimiglia said.

The Daily Star-Journal is one of 13 daily and weekly newspapers owned by the News-Press & Gazette Co. of St. Joseph, MO. The NPG, a fourth-generation family-owned newspaper group, also owns a variety of broadcast stations in 10 Midwest and West Coast markets.

Admitting the changes are challenging for the newspaper’s tiny staff, the Daily Star-Journal has a broad readership, and publishing in print and online seems to please a wide swath of readers.

“I appreciate our fourth and fifth generations of newspaper readers who still prefer the print edition and don’t read online,” he said. “But there is lots of news in our small community, and it’s challenging for a small staff to cover all the news and do it well.”

The Daily Star-Journal has a paid circulation of about 4,000 and also publishes a shopper. The online edition is behind a paywall, although new readers can view it 10 times for free, and that comes in handy for out-of-towners who want to read an obituary.

The newspaper covers the entire community. Whether it’s high school sports, local government, the county fair and 4-H or global issues brought home through Whiteman Air Force base, “if it’s local, we cover it,” Ventimiglia said. 

Warrensburg is a small community situated about 61 miles east of Kansas City. The town is the county seat of Johnson County, which is home to nearly 20,000 residents. A college town, the University of Central Missouri is located there and adds 14,000 students to the county’s population. Whiteman Air Force Base, which is the home of the 509th Bomb Wing and its fleet of B-2 Spirit bombers, is also nearby. The college and Air Force base together contribute to the community’s diversity; still, Warrensburg is close-knit and trends toward political conservatism, said Ventimiglia.

“I have a small but fantastic staff with two reporters, including me,” he said. 

The Daily Star-Journal is also the type of newspaper where even the publisher, Joe Warren, covers sports. He also has an employee who covers social media, and together, the small team gets the newspaper into the hands of its readers. The team also publishes a video preview of the next day’s newspaper three times a week. A sister publication in St. Joseph, MO, prints each edition. A carrier force offers home delivery, and newspapers are distributed on a variety of racks in the area.

Ventimiglia fully believes newspapers’ best days aren’t behind them, and although the future is different, it’s still bright.

“Over the years, the demise of newspapers has been reported,” he said. “From radio to TV and now the internet, all were purported to have caused newspapers to fade into obscurity.”

He recognizes that in today’s world, news published online is often unreliable, and current studies are showing some of it is fake. Ventimiglia said he believes local, community newspapers provide an antidote to that online counterfeit news.

“The community is always going to need a medium they can trust,” he said. “They want to know who won the big game. They want to record the birth of their children, find out who got married and who died, and they want to cut out the clippings and save them in scrapbooks, or post them on refrigerators. Newspapers will continue to be the glue that holds the community together.”

 

Teri Saylor lives in Raleigh, NC. Reach her at terisaylor@hotmail.com.

 

Details

Name of publisher? Jack “Miles” Ventimiglia.

What is the Daily Star-Journal’s circulation? 3,300.

What is its publication schedule? Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday.

Who is your parent company? News Press Gazette, St. Joseph, MO.

Does the Daily Star-Journal have a mission statement or a motto? Our company vision statement: To build a diverse media and technology company dominant in serving communities with the best local news, sales and information.

How many people are employed at the Daily Star-Journal? We have 10 full timers and three part-timers.

What is your newspaper’s role in your community? We reflect community values with the value-added proposition of sometimes telling the community unpleasant truths, including that second-hand tobacco smoke kills, which helped lead to the end of cigarette smoking in public places.

What is the most rewarding aspect of publishing a community newspaper? The most rewarding aspect of publishing a community newspaper is making a difference to readers. We cut through diverse, but often wrong comments on social media, with our on-the-scene coverage being coupled to official and eyewitness comments.

What are your biggest challenges? Same as every newsroom—so much news, so little time.

What are your top goals for 2017? Our top goals are to continue to produce and improve upon our peer-judged, No. 1 small daily newspaper in Missouri.

Phone: 660-747-5676

Email: jack.miles@dsjnow.com

Website: dailystarjournal.com

 

 

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