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Changes, big and small, in the new year

One of the truly weird things about the newspaper business is that you can't predict how readers will react to something that's in the paper. I learned this as a reporter when response to a silly story about, say, an injured dog could easily trump a major piece of governmental digging.

You just never know what people will care about. (The corollary to this is that the blockbuster stories an editor might expect to cause serious trouble seldom do; the seemingly routine stories are the ones that land the paper in court or cause a firestorm.)

So maybe it should have been no surprise that The Buffalo News' big announcement about becoming an all-morning paper next year -- one of the most momentous changes in the paper's history -- was greeted with what amounted to a collective yawn in the community. The phone lines were not jammed; the e-mail boxes did fill to overflowing.

Part of this, no doubt, was that several months ago The News sought responses to the idea of converting its traditional afternoon home delivery to morning, and heard from nearly 1,000 readers. Those who had something to say probably had already said it by the time the decision was made.

Still, it was oddly quiet. We heard from far more readers who were disturbed at our dropping the "Mutts" comic strip. (And yes, it's back.)

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The beginning of the year is a traditional time for newsroom changes, and we've made a few in the past month or so:

Jerry Zremski, who for many years has been a reporter in our Washington Bureau, takes on a new title -- national correspondent. This recognizes his excellent work, often in locations other than his Washington base, and some expanded duties, which will include covering Hillary Clinton as she runs for Senate re-election and during her likely 2008 presidential run. Douglas Turner continues as our Washington Bureau Chief.

Reporter Jay Rey takes on the challenging higher-education beat as his colleague Steve Watson moves on to explore how technology affects our lives. Watson has covered the colleges and universities with energy and ability in recent years; his final higher-education story appeared last Sunday -- an eye-opening look at salaries of former University at Buffalo administrators who return to teaching.

One of the most recent additions to our newsroom staff, Maki Becker, has proven herself a street-smart and able reporter on the night police beat since she came here from the New York Daily News last October. Becker now becomes a general assignment reporter specializing in crime reporting.

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When young people consider journalism as a career, they sometimes idealistically say that they want to help change the world. Two veteran News reporters -- Michael Beebe and Robert McCarthy -- have done just that recently. Twice, in fact.

Beebe and McCarthy's investigation of the State Liquor Authority last summer exposed a regulatory agency that was asleep on the job, or worse. Rather than punishing violations, it made a specialty of looking the other way. Since then, both state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer and Gov. George E. Pataki have taken action: Spitzer by launching his own investigation of reported payoffs and other illegalities within the liquor industry; Pataki by appointing a tough-minded new agency chair and a trouble-shooting attorney as chief executive, and by doubling the agency's investigatory staff.

The second example came just last week with a judge's ruling that is likely to radically change the way judges are chosen in New York. It will make running for judge open to anyone -- not just those who have curried favor with political party leaders.

Beebe and McCarthy had teamed up in 2002 on a series about the unsavory judicial nominating process in which potential judge candidates were charged thousands of dollars in "expenses" and forced to spend thousands more on tickets to political fund-raisers. The process stank to high heaven, and their investigation went a long way toward cleaning it up.

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