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A few lessons learned at newspapers over decades of work
Things I have learned working at newspapers for most of my life:
* Newspaper reporters and editors are just ordinary people. Most of them got into the business because they enjoy the written word and want to report what’s going on in the world, or their part of the world. They also want to get it right. Yes, they make mistakes; yes, a few are biased and show it; yes, some of them are full of themselves. But, for the most part, they’re good, decent people who bend over backward to be fair, people who have the same fears, the same trials, the same hopes that you have. And some of them get a bad rap.
* News people do not have magical powers when it comes to open records and open meetings. If they’re supposed to be open to reporters, they’re supposed to be open to you, too. It’s just that news people typically show more concern when public officials try to pull one over on their constituents. And they do something about it.
* Are the news media more liberal than other organizations? It depends on what you mean by the media. Some of the national media certainly are more liberal and show a liberal bias. But I’ve never worked with the national media — unless you consider the four months I was on loan as a reporter for USA Today—and most of my colleagues haven’t, either. In truth, we don’t even consider ourselves as part of the media. We’re newspaper folks in small towns and cities. That’s all.
* Most of the veteran newspaper people I know are no more cynical than anyone else. They may sound like it sometimes, but perhaps it’s because they’ve heard and seen how things are supposed to work and how they actually do work. They hear and read the promises of politicians as about as hopeful as a dose of Epsom salts.
* In writing an opinion piece, it’s best not to judge why a public official — or anyone else — takes an action. We must comment only on his action, not his motive. Often we don’t know the motive. I learned that from my first editor, Sylvan Meyer.
* News people believe we are most effective and unbiased when we are dispassionate about our stories. We remain cool and unfazed. That may be true sometimes. But who was unfazed following 9-11? Who is unfazed when abuse is inflicted on the innocent? Who is unfazed when a child drowns? No one with a heart is unfazed. We are human beings first, reporters second.
* Most of us newspaper reporters, despite what you may surmise from television news, don’t give a tinker’s damn about Lindsay Lohan.
These are just a few things I know from working with newspaper people, lo, these many years. Overall, they’re a good bunch of folks.
And as I enter the twilight of my career, I know I’m a more caring person for having known them.
Phil Hudgins’ column is published in many newspapers around the Southeast.