Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Blame the Messenger

I'm so tired of the recent attacks upon our newspaper from various sources who think we have some kind of hidden agenda. I know it's become chic and trendy to speculate all media, including newspapers are controlled by liberal Zionists whose agenda for a one-world government is destroying the sanctity of marriage and family values that have held this steadfast republic together for over two centuries.
The fact is, all journalists are not part of an insidious cabal designed to push Democratic National Committee propaganda. Many of us simply do what we do because we want to inform the public about the business of city council or community news they can't get from the metropolitan dailies or cable news networks. Working for a weekly newspaper isn't really strenuous. It is, however, demanding when you're dealing with writing eight or nine stories a week and covering two municipalities and dealing with many issues and subjects.
I've been a professional journalist for most of my working career, going on 14 years now. I've got a plethora of interesting stories; I met several people, some famous, others infamous. I've been insulted, threatened with bodily harm and mocked publicly. Praise in this job is extremely rare. I keep some letters I've collected over the years from various people thanking me for a story or article I wrote. One of my favorite letters is from 2000 from a former tax collector in Wildwood who empathized with me. He wrote "I am writing you this letter because both of us seldom get a good word for doing our jobs. I truly meant what I said about your integrity and honesty when dealing with me over the past few years. I could always count on you reporting any story accurately without the slightest deviation of the content we spoke of. You always made sure that you had all the facts before any article went into publication."
I keep the letter in a box with a bunch of other letters, back when I received letters before e-mail. All these old postmarked envelopes from my youth with letters from friends, mentors and strangers. There's something comforting in that old box, a nostalgia you can't get from the inbox on your e-mail program.
The best letters we get are the ones we don't expect. Last year, after winning a second-place journalism award, I received a card from one of our readers. I didn't know this man, but he sent a card congratulating me on my win and telling me to "keep up the good work."
Lately, I received a few notes from people telling me such-and-such an article was good. I guess as a Virgo, I ignore the positive and focus on the negative. I'm driven to self-improvement by obsessing on criticism. I second-guess myself when I read criticism.
I think: are they critical because they're persnickety and love squabbling or do they actually have valid points?
Recently, a writer from a competing newspaper questioned an article I wrote. She did it in a kind of Ann Coulteresque, uppity, snide way I didn't really appreciate. I realize I'm not free from criticism - the whole First Amendment and all that - but if you're going to criticize someone, don't be such a condescending bitch about it. In fact, when she belittled me, she wrote that I didn't truly understand the issue. However, she failed to read deeper in my story where I made the same point she accused me of omitting.
Back in college, none of my journalism professors taught me this job would be an occasional pain in the ass. We didn't learn there are people with agendas who'll criticize you for shining the light on subjects they want lingering in darkness. We weren't told about shrugging off criticism and learning from mistakes, or listening to people who accuse local newspapers of "always getting it wrong" like the director of one local hospital said within earshot. In journalism school, they don't teach you how to cringe uncomfortably when someone reads from your article in a public meeting, or when people say "Watch what you say around him; he's a reporter."
For the record, I really don't give a flying monkey fuck about your daily bullshit conversations. If it doesn't interest me, it won't interest my readers. I try to do the best job I can with the resources I'm given. This isn't The New York Times. I don't have access to reports coming over the wire from UPI or The Associated Press. I share office space with the ad department. We're all in one gigantic room. It gets noisy often and I get irritated.
And don't patronize me or lie to me. I've trained my senses when it comes to bullshit. I have a built-in, automatic bullshit detector from years of exposure to politicians from the local to the federal level. I'm lied to on a regular basis, so I know bullshit when I hear it, so don't try it with me.
Oh, and I don't have an ego. I know this is a local, small town newspaper. Call it fish wrapping, call it a rag, call it whatever you want. It doesn't demean me. It's a job, and one I do very well. I have no illusions about superstardom writing for a major metropolitan daily. If I can keep the local officials from bullshitting to the public and give readers objective, straight news coverage, then I've done my job.
In a world where a few corporations control the news content for millions of consumers, smaller news outlets are the last bastion of American journalism. There's no mindless groupthink or mass markets to control. That's what I like about it; this paper belongs to the people, they have a stake in this town and we're giving them the news that matters to them.
The more I see the media's credibility plummeting, the more hostility I see against journalists, I wonder what did we do to bring this on ourselves? Is it the unethical behaviors of Jayson Blair and his ilk, or the bashing on the Fourth Estate by the punditsphere, an amorphous collective of opinion slingers with their own agenda - discredit the news machine and maybe the people will listen to flat-out propaganda.
So blame the messenger all you want - it won't do a damn thing.

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