The San Diego Union-Tribune
Right around spring training time a few years ago, we ran a saying the oldest Little League in our county was dying. The league was in an impoverished area; it had no sponsors; there was little parent involvement. Worst of all, the managers, some of whom had been involved for more than 30 years, were getting too old to continue. Their average age was 66.
It was a good story. A tear-jerker. It touched on such salient sociological questions as drugs, crime, changing demographics and the breakdown of family values. But none of those questions were as important to the readers as this one: whom do you call to offer help? All they could do was call the newspaper. We were overwhelmed and scrambled to route them to the right people. When the dust settled, all 12 teams had sponsors and new uniforms and new coaches and the league had $8,000 in the bank.
The league wasn't the only beneficiary. The paper learned several valuable lessons. Among them: we weren't as smart as we thought we were.
"Dialogue" has become a trendy word these days, but it's a valuable one when it means talking to and listening to your community. We got the Little League story and stopped there. The readers didn't. They were affected by the story and they wanted help dealing with it. If the newspaper had "dialogued" better, we would have known that.
Over the years, The Union-Tribune has taken this lesson to heart. We discuss more; we listen more. It began formally in 1975 when The Union appointed one of journalism's first ombudsmen. Our …