Phil Lewis: Is Mary worth the space she takes up?

Phil Lewis
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Comic strips continue to be a topic of reader feedback — solicited or not.

More than one reader has let us know face-to-face in recent weeks that Mary Worth isn’t worth their trouble and should be dropped from our daily lineup. One pointed out that the storyline moves at a laborious rate. A look at the past week’s offering of the 70-year-old serial tends to bear that out. Five days of panels took up 65 square inches of newsprint while moving the storyline little more than an inch.

Still, years ago at the Daily News, I learned a valuable and somewhat painful lesson. As managing editor, I surprised readers and dropped Mary Worth in favor of a new, “more popular” strip. Who could possibly read Mary Worth? I found out. For three days I did little more than field calls from angry readers. Mary Worth, as I remember it, was absent less than a week before it returned to the Daily News.

We’re guessing it still has its fans among our readers. A search of the Web shows it has an international following of sorts, a following that apparently finds humor in a strip that is meant to be serious.

A fellow in Maryland started a blog (http://maryworthandme.blogspot.com) that reminds us of Mystery Science Theater 3000, a television show from a few years back. Mystery Science Theater made fun of dated science fiction movies with a campy, running commentary of quips and observations that played along with the original soundtrack.

The Mary Worth blog features the daily strip and a quip or two. It also has an interactive map that tracks visitors to the Mary Worth blog. When I was there Friday morning, most were from the United States, but there were visitors from Canada, Great Britain, Germany, Australia, Croatia, Brazil and Panama.

Does Mary Worth have an international cult following? Who would have thought?

The comic strip “Mallard Fillmore” was the focus of another reader complaint this past week:

“Read the paper every morning and enjoy. Only one thing confuses me. You have Mallard Fillmore in the comics and its rightwing political viewpoint. This should be in the Editorial/Commentary section with the other political cartoons. I know this started out as a cartoon strip years ago, but has been a political piece for some time now.”

We’ve heard this complaint and recommendation many, many times in the past, but rarely about Mallard Fillmore. Usually the offending strip cited for placement on the editorial page — if not total banishment — was Doonesbury or The Boondocks, an edgy strip that is on hiatus. A few newspapers have moved such strips to the editorial page, but we’ve kept them with our other comics. We believe a daily comics package should be diverse and appeal to a wide range of reader interests. Focus groups and feedback following our recent redesign have backed that up. We learned that most readers don’t want comics placed in different sections or spotted throughout the daily edition.

Also, recommendations to move a strip to the editorial page might have something to do with a reader’s political leanings. Mallard Fillmore comes from the right and Doonesbury from the left. Seldom has a reader recommended moving both. It’s usually one or the other.

And finally, on the topic of comic strips, we received this from reader Dick Reed:

“May I suggest a few comics that I enjoyed in the Denver Post this summer? Please consider: ‘Tundra,’ ‘Bizarro,’ ‘Loose Parts,’ ‘Free Range,’ ‘Speed Bump,’ ‘The Argyle Sweater,’ ‘The Flying McCoys.’ It may just be my unusual sense of humor but I enjoyed these a lot.”

We’ll take a look, Mr. Reed, but I don’t see us dropping any of our current strips to make room — not even Mary Worth.

* * *

The end of the year as well as the end of the decade approaches, so newspaper editors are being polled on top stories and top news makers.

The first received concerns sports.

The Associated Press wants each of its member newspapers to help pick the “Athlete of the Decade.”

Here are the choices, in the order listed by AP:

* Lance Armstrong, cycling.

* Tom Brady, football.

* Roger Federer, tennis.

* Michael Phelps, swimming.

* Tiger Woods, golf.

* Usain Bolt, track.

* Annika Sorenstam, golf.

* Serena Williams, tennis.

* Kobe Bryant, basketball.

* Barry Bonds, baseball.

* Michael Schumacher, motor racing.

* Albert Pujols, baseball.

* Lisa Leslie, basketball.

* Shaquille O’Neal, basketball.

* Candace Parker, basketball.

* Pamela Reed, distance running.

* Kenenisa Bekele, track.

* Tim Duncan, basketball.

* Lorena Ochoa, golf.

* Jimmie Johnson, NASCAR.

* Alex Rodriguez, baseball.

* Zinedine Zidane, soccer.

* David Beckham, soccer.

* Marta, soccer.

* Birgit Prinz, soccer.

* Manny Pacquiao, boxing.

This is too easy for us lifelong St. Louis Cardinal fans, so I’ll declare a conflict of interest and leave the balloting to another.

Votes are due next week and AP’s “Athlete of the Decade” will be announced Dec. 16 for Dec. 17 editions.

© 2009 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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