Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Not For Sale

Last night a local developer (you know the type: yuppie, dough-bellied, handshake like a cold fish) called me up and queried whether I’d cover a meeting for him. He said he didn’t want me to report anything from the meeting, just attend and take notes for him while he was out of town.

He mentioned his application was coming before this one board and wanted to know what happened.

I replied since I’m a reporter, I’d publish what went on at the meeting.

He said he didn’t want me to report on anything, just takes notes, then he asked me “how much something like that would cost.”

Essentially, he wanted a recording secretary.

I gruffly (because I get that way when someone insults my intelligence) explained I wouldn’t be attending the meeting.

“Do you know any reporter I could ask who would do that for me?” he asked.

“Someone without ethics or a conscience,” I proffered.

Here’s the part where I launch into a diatribe about how people in this one-horse town don’t fathom or “get” what I do.

I’m not a lone gun for you to hire to waste my time attending meetings for you. If I do go to these dreadfully boring things it’s because someone pays me to do it and write for publication.

Get that last part, Stephen Hawking?

Write. For. Publication.

I hate wasting time. I sit at these meetings (and are they ever tedious and boring) taking notes and recording them. I do this not because I’m inspired by local zoning ordinances, but because the man at the end of the hall takes the words, edits them and puts them in the newspaper. Then he cuts me a check and I use the money to pay bills so I can escape the hellish existence of debtor’s prison.

Poverty notwithstanding, it’s quite a racket, this. It affords me a chance to meet people, make connections and inform the hybrid monkey creatures inhabiting this island.

Informing the public. What a novel concept.

Telling people what the need to know is vital to preserving our country.

A well-informed citizenry, yadda yadda yadda. You’ve heard that spiel before.

Problem is, the quality of news you’re consuming - like hoagies filled with Frito’s - will one day kill you.

The news cycle is already saturated with over-indulgent, sensationalistic garbage. Celebrities, shootings and boobies. That’s what sells. Throw in a road accident and someone’s grandma and we have a contender for the Pulitzer Prize.

We’ve gone from a nation of smaller, regional and daily newspapers to a kingdom of media conglomerates. Dailies and weeklies are folding, leaving the Internet and television as the prime sources of information. Of these two, I’m hitching my wagon to the Internet. Words allow far more in-depth reporting and convey a truer sense of information than sound bites and ten seconds of canned footage.

Once, a smarmy real estate agent (you know the type: Lexus driver, trophy wife, card-carrying member of the Aryan Nation) was having a party congratulating himself on being in business for umpteen many years. His secretary called and wanted to know how much it would cost to pay me to cover his party. This was a private house party with his co-workers and family.

What am I, a magician or clown? I don’t do parties. That’s not my job.

Apparently, the elite believes you pay reporters to provide the news, as long as it’s glowing and omits all controversy.

Hire a public relations firm, not a journalist.

Journalists starve, while public relations professionals are covered in gold doubloons and feted royally.

We receive scorn and derision, they’re treated like living gods and given a pick of several nubile women and nectar-filled drinking horns.

It’s no wonder why the elitists disregard reporters. Harsh truths don’t matter to the ones who benefit from ignoring them. If you’re privileged enough to live in a ruby and emerald encrusted mansion, why do you care about people starving in the streets?

If the Almighty Dollar is your god, the plight of the pitiful rabble aren't keeping you awake at night.

So they call us liberal boat-rockers and biased parasites. They dwell in a cocoon of ignorance and disregard all news if it vivisects their sacred cows.

They think they can buy us with cash, as if we were hookers at a Shriner’s convention.

Someone’s got to keep their backs to the wind and inform Joe and Jill Lunchpail that something is rotten in America.

Bribing reporters doesn’t make you a slick businessman. You can’t use us as secretaries or public relations hacks. Having scruples is not a weakness. Turning down a rich bully’s money doesn’t mean you’re a naive idealist. 

It means you’re nobody’s dupe.

It means you have principles. 

It means you seek facts, no matter how uncomfortable they might be. 

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