Saturday, October 20, 2012

Asshole Town

Today while covering a ward meeting (which, incidentally, is about as much fun as having fire ants shoved in your urethra), one ornery old man singled me out and referred to me as a "partial newspaper person".

I might be a partial newspaper person, but he is a complete asshole.

Seriously, what's this need to publicly vent your dissatisfaction for the press when the press is sitting right in front of you? What about a curtly-worded letter sent to the newspaper's offices, a brusque phone call or an e-mail...forget about e-mail. Most people over 60 can't operate computers. Better stick to pony express, then, WIlfred Brimley.

I've known this particular grizzled prospector of a human, this furry-cheeked Methuselah, for a few years. He always attends council meetings and speaks, with a gravelly voice reminding one of a multi-decade long nicotine habit. You can imagine him belting scotch before belting the waitress. he's the old school kind of guy who felt most comfortable in a La-Z-Boy recliner watching Bill O'Reilly and cursing at the "Jew media elite".

In other words, he's an asshole.

This is the same geezer who jokingly referred to me as "Mr. Front Page" because my newspaper stories fill most of the front page.

His witticisms hath slain me.

Apparently, this guy has an enormous chip on his shoulder and doesn't get along with people.

He's a petulant old grouch, hence, his deriding me as a "partial newspaper person" wasn't unexpected.

To set the record straight for Grandpa Munster, I've been doing this journalism schtick for 19 years in Cape May County (come for the beaches, stay for the plutocratic oligarchy). I have written for four area newspapers. Before that, I interned at a newspaper in Massachusetts. In college, I majored in journalism. In my long (almost unbearably long) career in the coastal wilds of southern New Jersey, I've won six awards from the New Jersey Press Association. I received a journalism fellowship, and was tasked to write editorials for the newspaper by the editor himself.

I dare characterize that as "partial" anything.

In my entire profession, I've labored to retain a creed and a trust of neutrality, of presenting both sides of the story and delving deeper. Sometimes I succeed in mission, while other times I fall short.

Regardless of how the stories manifest themselves, how the interviews go and whether I secure the right documents, the story always comes out.

Reporters have to grab multitudes of information, synthesize said information in our addled caffeinated brains, and organize the information into readable, digestible text.

Writing isn't easy; it's a time-consuming, grueling and unforgiving mistress with black leather stiletto heels digging into your frontal cortex, grinding the words out of you.

I do this job because I enjoy a good political scrum, tete-a-tete conversations with people from varied professions and a chance to write for publication. It's not a novel, but it's got my name on it.

Mostly, it's something I excel at and have familiarity with.

I don't claim to be a journalistic maven or virtuoso wordsmith, but I can write during a deadline. That's a valuable skill, writing in a crunch.

In this conservative city, journalism is viewed with a jaundiced, bloodshot eye and and reporters are merrily scoffed at, except for ones with connections to the real estate industry.

They're viewed as "serious journalists" and not "partial newspaper people."

No matter how many words you write in a feeble attempt to explain or enlighten, someone will inevitably turn that shotgun against you and blast a hole through your gut. They are greedy, ignorant men with money who persuade their creepy friends that anyone adopting a different viewpoint should be shunned or ridiculed.

Problems plague this delightful city by the sea, yet I can't fix assholes. There are several assholes in this city, embittered, raving men who deride anyone who makes them feel inferior. They get a jolly kick out of chastising reporters, not because of who we are, but because of what we do.

To them, the profession defines the personal character.

They have the luxury of sitting on their Depends-sheathed asses and complaining about the sorry state of the community, and point to the media and blame us for the town's shortcomings. Like I'm staying up nights flooding the roads and causing beach erosion.

What other explanation could it be for this guy to speak pejoratively of me in a room full of people?
Was it to shame me, to make me see the error of my ways and repent, to abandon a life of writing in favor of a career in chartered accountancy?

Or was it because he was just an asshole, lobbing stones at the class nerd?

He's not alone, because this city takes pride in its assholes. Influential people with money and power, vie for control, forge alliances and push through their own greedy agendas. It's like "Game of Thrones" without the nudity and the dwarf.

I don't know what causes this peculiar affliction. Perhaps you get up one day and instead of greeting the world with a carefree smile and spring in your step, you guzzle your prune juice and yell at a reporter.

Thing is, people here like me. Not all of the country club fuckers, but some of them. My reputation countywide is fairly positive. People with the county government, political and civic groups know I give them a fair shake. They've complimented me on my articles and even-handedness in reporting.
I might falter, but I climb right back up on the horse and spur the nag in its gizzards before galloping on.

My quest is to inform the people here, to give them balanced, accurate information.

I'm trying to make this a better place.

Newspapers create an organic, ever-changing dialog between citizens. It's healthy, it's needed and it's what the Constitution protects.

But I can only do so much.

Some days, you feel good about writing stories under deadline and producing a graphically-pleasing newspaper with a variety of articles, and other days a decrepit old fart coldcocks your ego.

Forget about it, Jake. It's Asshole Town.

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