Our readers have spoken. Loud and clear.
Earlier this month, we asked for feedback from Times Free Press readers on the fate of the "Mark Trail" comic strip, which has appeared in our sports section for decades. The request for input was prompted by the volume of unsolicited complaints our editorial staff had received over the three-month span since the strip began employing a new artist.
Three weeks ago, we gave our readers the opportunity to voice their opinions so that we could gauge the overall sentiment. In that sport span, our office has received more than 200 emails, calls and hand-written letters, with fewer than 10 of those responses saying they were willing to give the new version of the popular series a chance.
The rest were so strongly opposed to the new artist's vision and direction for the characters and storyline that they overwhelmingly asked us to discontinue it from our pages.
For anyone who has not followed the comic closely, it began in 1946 with the title character — a photojournalist and outdoors magazine writer whose assignments lead to adventure and sometimes danger — focusing on environmental themes.
Because outdoors sports and recreation are so popular in the Chattanooga area, it was only natural that readers were drawn to the comic. The characters' clean-cut, wholesome image also appealed to folks and created a loyal following.
But since Oct. 12 of last year, when Jules Rivera was introduced as the strip's new artist, the characters have been given a modernized look and the storylines have become more cutting edge, which is no longer recognizable to its core audience.
While I'm certain not all readers agree with how we cover area sports, the difference is that it is our job to report the news factually and also to sometimes give opinions on subjects related to sports. That is the role of any community's newspaper.
What separates that from allowing readers to help decide the fate of "Mark Trail" in our section is that the comic strip has always been a source of entertainment. When the vast majority of our readers stop being entertained and are instead so turned off by the new version of their beloved comic that they can no longer look past it, then it would be tone deaf to ignore their wishes.
As one reader wrote: "The Mark Trail we all knew and loved no longer exists. He left us last October and, speaking for many other fans, we would prefer to remember what it once was rather than have to see this imposter continually dishonor a beloved character. Please put this new version, and us readers, out of our misery and drop the strip from the pages of the morning newspaper."
That was one of the nicer replies, but it summarized the feeling of the great number who took time to express their feelings. So, after much discussion and consideration, our editorial staff has decided — beginning now — to no longer include "Mark Trail" in the pages of the Times Free Press.
As sports editor, it is my belief that our section is better off using that space more wisely, so we will instead fill it with more sports information. We appreciate your feedback, and we appreciate you making the Times Free Press a part of your daily routine.