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TWO OLD FRIENDS RETURN: NEWS POWER AND PICTURE PAGE

Once upon a time in America, there was hardly any such thing as a consumer problem.

Shopkeepers and customers knew each other, and -- while they might have had harsh words now and then -- they tended to work things out.

But that was then. These days, buying consumer goods and getting them serviced has become a headache, complete with getting lost in voice mail jungles, incomprehensible instruction booklets and, sometimes, plain old poor quality and service.

Consumers need help. Toward that end, The News recently reintroduced a column called News Power, in which staffer Karen Robinson investigates our readers' consumer troubles. The column appears each Monday in a new section called The Link, which sets out to help you find your way through the whole maze of saving and spending your money.

In the two months since News Power began, Robinson has dealt with a wide variety of complaints. They include: a gift certificate issued by a golf center that had changed ownership, luggage damaged during plane travel and a cell phone company that deactivated an account after a customer lost her phone -- and then reactivated it and started billing the customer again without informing her.

"I think people feel good about News Power because it's one more avenue to try when they're totally frustrated and feel there's no hope in sight," says Robinson, a former reporter for Business First who also covers suburban government for The News. So far, her success rate at solving problems, while not flawless, has been excellent.

News Power was a fixture in The News for 24 years before it was discontinued in 1991. For years afterward, readers have been requesting its return. The old News Power was written by Dick Christian, who became a popular and well-known News columnist after solving many a problem.

Robinson seems comfortable in her new role and well-suited to it. While a pleasant person, she's no pushover. She's aggressive and persistent, and she notes that -- well before the column came along -- she's always been the person in her family who has taken on household consumer problems.

"I really don't mind confrontation for a good cause. I thrive on it," Robinson says. "It feels good to break through the bureaucracy and get something accomplished for people."

Be sure to see her News Power column Monday on Page 2 of the tabloid Link section. You can also e-mail her with your consumer complaints at newspower@buffnews.com, or send her a letter at The News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, NY 14240.

When we unveiled the redesign of The News in mid-May, readers saw many new features and sections. But some of what seemed new really wasn't. News Power was one of two additional offerings that were being reintroduced after long absences.

The other was the Picture Page, which, like News Power, was discontinued in the early '90s after a long run. It now appears daily, usually on the back page of the Life & Arts section. Today, it appears on the back page of the Business section.

Managing Editor Stephen Bell each day does the initial selection of about eight to 10 photographs -- later winnowed to four or five with the help of a page designer.

The images are culled from hundreds the Associated Press sends each day, along with those supplied from our staff photographers.

The photographs should evoke emotion, as well as have news value, Bell says, noting that he looks for "great images with news content" and always tries to include some local pictures. Sometimes, the local pictures are so good, they dominate, as they do today.

In the end, he notes, we're hoping for "dramatic, memorable, enjoyable pages."

You may respond to editor@buffnews.com or to One News Plaza, Buffalo, NY 14240.

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