Appeal fights for an 'A' in consistency

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There's a war going on in the Nevada Appeal newsroom and it's got nothing to do with the new publisher. Really.

It's a war likely fought across the globe, behind the closed doors of any newspaper. It's a war most readers won't recognize, but it's played out nonetheless.

This week's war, over the capitalization of the "a" in Bay area, seems a bit small in comparison to the war on terrorism, but to us it's a big deal.

To us it speaks of consistency, of accuracy.

It's part of the daily struggle we as writers and editors face to bring our readers the news.

In the newsroom we say there's no better way to start a fight than to ask a style question. And, yes, I lost the war. And no I'm not going quietly into the night. But that's OK.

We're still not going to capitalize the "A" in Bay area, deciding with a little help from The Associated Press.

Most of all, the war illustrates yet another level of our attempts to get it right.

Do most readers notice if we consistently capitalize the "A" in Bay area? Probably not.

Readers do notice when we spell it incorrectly, or when we forget to continue the story to the back page. Mostly, though, they scream when we mess up the crossword.

You won't find a larger batch of egos congregated in one place than you will find in the newsroom at deadline -- at least not until the next session of Legislature begins.

It's because of this, but mostly because it's in our blood and in our hearts, that each day we put our names, our reputations and our hearts out to the public -- where they are stabbed at -- at will and sometimes without compassion.

We are stabbed between bar stools downtown, from the dais at the board meeting and at the kitchen table over coffee and toast. We are stabbed by those in bathrobes, black robes and no robes. But we're there -- 365 days a year -- and armed to the teeth with barrels of ink and paper.

In my case, my newspaper blood runs back two generations to my great-grandmother Marie Potts. Marie Potts, or "Nanna" to me, is in some circles famous and should be revered in all circles.

She was about 4 feet 11 inches tall, with long gray braids by the time I knew her. Her grin was something like the cat's who ate the canary, and she made the best fry bread ever. Her Maidu name was Chankuptpan -- One With Sharp Eyes.

She's famous to the Maidu and the Indians of Northern California as a spokeswoman for Indian rights. She probably never thought to call herself a Native American; she was proud to be an Indian. She helped establish the American Indian Press Association and was co-founder of the Federated Indians of California Inter-Tribal Council.

In the 1940s, she began the Smoke Signal, the oldest Indian newspaper in America. With my father running the mimeograph and my aunts manning the typewriters, the six-page Smoke Signal issued monthly from her home in Sacramento. I think it's where my passion for the news comes from.

Her greatest accomplishment in my eyes is that she raised my father and my aunts after their mother -- my grandmother, her daughter -- died.

I think it's through her -- the One With Sharp Eyes -- my aunt came up with a great way to look at what we do in the news and at our mistakes.

One day a few years ago she told me, "I used to read the newspaper and see all the mistakes and think 'Are those people stupid?' Then I realized just how many words there were in the paper and thought 'They do a pretty good job.'"

Kelli Du Fresne is features editor of the Nevada Appeal.


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