published Sunday, November 21st, 2010

Foster: Puzzles, sermons restored


by J. Todd Foster

Newspaper editors are accustomed to reader abuse. When readers drop three quarters in a rack, they buy the right to share their opinions, whether those opinions are laced with vitriol or not.

I've been called every name imaginable, including Satan. But until last month, I had never been accused of sending people to Satan.

When the claim comes from a well-meaning teenage girl, it resonates more than the typical hate mail.

Long story short, she's just one of the readers who objected to our recent, well-intentioned move aimed at economizing. We had decided to save money by jettisoning the Saturday church sermons and by trimming Monday's paper from five sections to four, which meant the puzzles page had to move to Sports, away from its companion comics page in Life.

Women readers quickly grew tired of trying to wrestle the Sports section away from their husbands, according to the calls and e-mails that inundated me.

"I understand that newspapers and magazines are making every economical effort possible to stay in business," wrote a Lookout Mountain woman. "However, I'm asking you if there isn't another way to conserve paper without jeopardizing my morning enjoyment ...?"

We also got several sermons about cutting the sermons.

"This concerns me very much because, as a Christian, I believe that you are hindering people from getting saved," wrote the teenage home-schooled girl from Calhoun, Ga.

"If I was new in town, and looking for a church home, then I would consider the newspaper as a reliable source for newcomers. By taking this listing out of the newspaper, you are doing a great disservice to the people of Chattanooga," she concluded.

Producing a newspaper is a subjective exercise. Sometimes our well-intentioned decisions are wrongheaded and need to be reversed.

So it is with the church sermons and the puzzles page. Both have been restored to their rightful places. We appreciate those readers who spoke out.

J. Todd Foster is executive editor of the Chattanooga Times Free Press and appreciates the outpouring of reader support over his Nov. 7 column about his late father. Foster can be reached at jtfoster@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6472.

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