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  • Last modified 247 days ago (Aug. 10, 2023)

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Those who live
. . . in glass houses . . .

Nothing warms the heart quite like being ejected from one public meeting or being falsely accused at another. It was particularly pleasant to hear it claimed that the ejection was at the behest of prominent citizens who seem to think a rival paper, which covers almost nothing, is a superior news medium.

None of this is unexpected, however. There’s still a bullet hole from years ago in a window next to where I sit as I write this. From before I became the latest in a long line of people entrusted with the Record’s legacy for reporting all the news, good or bad, I can recall my predecessor’s tires being slashed, cars being egged, and livelihood threatened by advertisers disgruntled because the paper had the audacity to report that a friend or relative had committed a crime.

I’ve practiced journalism nearly all my life, here in a small town, at mid-size cities, in major metropolitan areas, in print, and online. I’ve also taught it to eager would-be professionals whom I’ve had to coach through the culture shock of how some in the public perceive journalists.

At every level, the story’s the same, and it best was summed up a few decades ago by a respected editor who said: “Show me a beloved newspaper man, and I’ll show you a crappy newspaper.” (For the record, he used a different word than “crappy,” but this is a family paper.)

Part of the job of any journalist — and any news publication worthy of its name — is to focus as honest and accurate a lens as possible on the community it serves so everyone has as clear an idea as possible what’s actually going on and, in theory, might be able to do something about it.

We’re not entertainers, though virtually every week we mix cute or inspiring stories with more challenging ones. We’re not cheerleaders, though sometimes we cheer. We’re not naysayers, though more often than we would like, facts dictate conveying something less than pleasant. But, again, the hope in doing so is always positive — that the information conveyed will allow community members to become part of a solution rather than remain mired in a problem.

Silver linings find their way into most clouds. Being banned from his public meeting allowed two of us to meet in private with our congressman — not just to ask questions as reporters but also to give advice as citizens.

It’s advice I’ll happily give to our state representative if he stops by, as planned, or offer to anyone and everyone else.

As a society, we need to stop worrying about hot-button issues. Border walls, transgender athletes, abortion, gun rights, election security, “living” wages, sex trafficking, gender-neutral pronouns, racist micro-aggressions, Jan. 6 insurrections, and a hundred other issues on both the right and the left that have an amazing ability to divert our attention from problems right in front of us — problems that, unlike most of the others, we actually can solve.

Those are the situations anyone involved in local journalism want people to pay attention to. We want you to see when appointed employees are having trouble doing their jobs but no trouble usurping the jobs of elected officials who are supposed to be their bosses. We want you to notice when there are contentious struggles for power with the possibility that logrolling a favor for one district might end resolving an all-in stalemate among other districts. We want you to actually come forward and do something about setting spending priorities rather than simply grousing when tax bills arrive.

Being ejected from a meeting and falsely accused of invading personal privacy when actually we were protecting it is a herring as red as the hot-button issues people prefer to focus on and the time-worn cliché about journalists being negative. Their sole motivation — and ours — is to help, not hinder their communities.

We’re not alone in being condemned in silent whispers or shouted falsehoods designed as misdirection. Valiant politicians who try to be leaders instead of followers often face the same tactics, designed to distract everyone from such things as people possibly driving illegally for years or trying to engage in activities they may not be licensed to do.

One thing we do understand is why so few people come forward to challenge those who are quick to misdirect with wild allegations. In our real-world equivalent of cinema’s “Pleasantville,” they worry about retaliation and becoming the next target of those whose claims they find preposterous.

The two things that journalists — along with good politicians and, for that matter, all citizens — must possess are inquisitiveness and Quixotic courage to be willing to be shunned, boycotted, bullied, or reviled — all in the faint hope that the great silent majority will at some point put an end to tyrannies of small groups.

— ERIC MEYER

Last modified Aug. 10, 2023

 

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