It seems almost everyone, including some in our field, especially other media, politicians and the usual I-hate-the-truth lummoxes, love to ring the death knell for our medium.
Yes, we’ve even learned to put our product on the Internet along with the unverified, unreliable and often irresponsible missives any individual or entity can post.
Newspapers still have rules, ethics, collective consciences, specially-trained employees and a history of seeking and printing the facts and the TRUTH, as best as it can be determined, and we do it more completely and in more depth than ANY other news medium.
We continue to do so because — as one of my favorite characters, Darrell Royal, once said — “we’ll dance with who brung us.”
And, them that brung us are the 3Rs of newspaper journalism: responsibility, reliability and readability.
AS IN any field of endeavor or business, newspapers are not without those who do not adhere strictly to those 3Rs, but I can state with great confidence that those types are a small minority.
Quite frankly, there are certain segments of the media, including some newspapers (anything Rupert Murdoch owns pops into my head first), which are slanted to favor a particular line of thinking. But, the huge majority of newsprint products work hard at following the 3Rs.
We make mistakes. Only one perfect man has ever walked the earth and He will return some day.
However, I have often spoken to groups on the rudiments of publishing and editing newspapers, particularly those papers now classified as “community.” I always tell them that, yes, we make mistakes, but they are there to haunt is in black and white and, often, in more recent times, “living color.”
NEWSPAPERS are quick to correct real mistakes, when discovered.
As a weekly newspaper editor-publisher, I always felt my staffs dreaded “the day after”…the paper came out. Because I’d spent half the night before with a red pen marking all of our mistakes — typos, grammar, misstatements, and yes, sometimes errors of fact. The message was unspoken in exact wording but understood nonetheless: “Do this too often and you may be encouraged to find another line of work.”
Now, these statements aren’t about what I did, per se, they are about what I know from a full lifetime of involvement in this wonderful profession: The vast majority of the people in newspaper journalism love it as passionately as I do.
I am particularly knowledgeable about community newspapers (read small town) because that’s what I spent more than 50 years doing and, essentially, even though I’m retired from the day-to-day business, I’m still happily involved through this weekly offering.
WHILE I stand by these words for the newspaper industry and profession in general, I am particularly confident of the adherence to these 3Rs by community journalists.
I veered from my initial journalistic goal of being “the world’s best sportswriter” to “country editor and publisher” quite happily. Economic necessity pushed me into a job at my hometown weekly newspaper and, afterward, I never really wanted to do anything else.
Country newspapering is the most responsible form of journalism, I firmly believe, because those of us in it are in touch with the people and institutions about which we write about every day. We meet in the grocery store, at the gas station, at the bank and in our children’s school activities.
If we make a mistake, we have to look them in the eye and apologize or explain and then FOLLOW UP with an appropriate print response.
After all, it’s responsible. That makes us reliable. And, what we print makes us oh so readable.
It’s not just the best business, it’s the most fun. I’ve had a heckuva ride and look forward to cruising along with the generation that’s coming along now.
Willis Webb is a retired community newspaper editor-publisher of more than 50 years experience. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.