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Sun Herald`s new executive editor ready for challenges

Tiner bullish on future of newspapers — and the Coast

Stan Tiner, a former editor at the Mobile Press Register, recently was named the new executive editor of The Sun Herald, the state’s second largest newspaper. Tiner replaces Michael Tonos, the executive editor since 1991. Publisher Roland Weeks said Tiner was selected because of his understanding of the challenges and opportunities the Coast faces in an era of strong economic growth.

The Mississippi Business Journal recently talked with Tiner about the direction The Sun Herald will take under his leadership.

Mississippi Business Journal: What do you see as the greatest challenge to being the new executive editor of The Sun Herald?

Stan Tiner: One of the most important things is just getting my feet on the ground and learning about the community — the traditions, culture and history of the place. I want to meet the people who are the players in the community, and the demographics specific to each community we serve. Likewise, I also need to get to know my staff and their aspirations for the paper.

I’m trying to get us all on the same page by having a set of goals and dreams for what this newsroom wants to do. What I’ve seen thus far is a newsroom and group of editors who are very anxious to make those determinations, put their shoulder to the wheel, and go with it.

Sometimes we get so caught up in planning that we fail to appreciate the wonderful task that we have which is to gather news and inform people about what is going on. That is something I enjoy very much, so I’m looking forward to getting to that phase.

MBJ: Do you expect technology to continue changing the way newspapers do business?

ST: Technology is going to always be an important part of our lives whether we are in the news business or any other business. Technology drives a lot of our world today, and it always has. We have to deal with challenges such as the ILOVEYOU virus that crippled so many computers recently.

All of us need to be mindful of the technology. But I think one of my jobs is not to get so drawn to the technology that I forget the main thing we are doing, which is to gather the news and tell it accurately and efficiently so people in our area of the world know what is going on primarily in south Mississippi.

I’m very bullish about newspapers. That doesn’t mean newspapers will look the same five, 10 or 15 years from now. But I believe something very similar to newspapers today will be part of our lives as far into the future as I can see. In some ways a newspaper is almost more important now that it has ever been. In a world where we are burdened with an overload of information, how do you make sense of that? There used to be three TV channels, and now there are hundreds of choices. On the Internet there are thousands upon thousands of Web sites that tell me more than I can possibly process.

A newspaper is a highly structured device that is pretty predictable. Things are in the same place today as they were yesterday. While we are going to continue to bring our readers news of the world and the nation, CNN and CBS don’t care nearly as much about south Mississippi as we do. They don’t have the dedication of staff to local news gathering. We’ve been doing that very well for a long time, and we will continue to do that.

In the future, though, we may deliver news in different ways. For example, a reporter who does a news story may carry a video camera with him and have video, as well. But people will continue to get daily news reports delivered to their door or driveway early in the morning for a long, long time. I think newspapers are going to be there in the end because we will take advantage of the branding we have. People have confidence in what we do and our ability to gather news, present it fairly, and maintain credibility, whereas a great deal of what you get off the Internet is totally not credible.

MBJ: The Sun Herald arguably has the best newspaper Web site in Mississippi. Are you concerned that having such a good Web page, with so much of the information free, competes against subscriptions for the newspaper?

ST: I think nobody has yet figured out how all these things play into each other. The newspaper industry has spent untold billions on the best way to provide an Internet edition. Some good newspapers do a Web site one way, and some do it another. There has been all of this talk about the importance of newspaper Web sites. But of the companies that have been dropping millions on this technology, only two or three Web sites that provide news information have ever made a nickel. Most of the Web sites are gobbling up the profits of newspapers.

The importance of newspapers in the brave new world is that with all of this fragmentation of information, the newspaper is almost the last common ground that tries to talk to people across the landscape, regardless where they live, their jobs, income levels or ethnic backgrounds. The newspaper goes to everyone. It also, I think, is going to end up being very important as the civic glue that keeps the community together. It is a common basis for conversations about communities, cities and states.

A newspaper, for all its frailties, still does those chores better, talking about issues of local importance in a way that none of these other mediums can or will do. Newspaper articles tend to be a beginning point of conversations about local issues.

It is also a very good medium for advertising. All of the surveys I see show that people read the newspaper for the news, but almost equally they read it for the advertising. Contrast that with television advertisements. People usually get up to get a drink or go to the bathroom or, if they stay seated, click to other channels while the advertisement is on.

A newspaper is solid, talks across all lines, and is available to hit a broad section of people attractive to advertisers. That makes me feel very good about the future of newspapers.

MBJ: The Sun Herald editorial staff has taken a strong stance for coastal preservation and planned growth, and while you were editor at the Mobile Press Register the newspaper won some prestigious awards for environmental reporting. What will be your position on reporting and editorializing on growth management?

ST: That is really a very, very important thing. The good thing about it is that paradise is not lost yet. But I would say that since I moved to Mobile in 1992, the Mississippi Gulf Coast has changed tremendously. The Gulf Coast is one of the most interesting and pleasant places to be. What’s not to like about south Mississippi? We have all these things going for us.

One school of thought about growth management is that we ought to shut it down right now.

You can’t do that. That genie is out of the bottle. We are going to grow here. I’m just a newcomer, but one place I see where there hasn’t been appropriate planning is in the infrastructure.

Then there are much deeper questions such as how this type of growth impedes on the environment of fragile vessels such as our coastal wetlands. One of the reasons this place is so lovely is that we are where land meets water. It is rich in all kinds of aquatic life such as shrimp and oysters.

We have to make sure we are not destroying that resource and the lovely natural advantages we have. One reason people want to live here is to have clean water, to be able to fish and to participate in water sports activities. If it is polluted and ruined, there will be no place to go to.

It is hard to sell growth management to some people because often the South has a sort of anti-environmental attitude. I would say the way you change that is education. Once people know the facts, they will understand why it is important to preserve the environment and why we need more long-range planning.

So, I think there is a great attraction

About Becky Gillette

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