|By G. Michael Dobbs|
A reader from Longmeadow was one of the many people who attended this year's communication conference conducted at Western New England College last week and he brought up an interesting point to me.
He noted that no one elects any member of the press to be their representative and yet the press can act in a leadership role in a community.
His comment came as a follow-up to one made to the panel of which I was part about the obvious or not so obvious slant in news coverage.
As long as someone has been disseminating news and opinion, someone else has sought for an agenda. Newspapers in the United States in the 18th and 19th Centuries were often identified with a particular political or social point of view.
And they were open about it. Readers pretty much knew what they were getting into when they opened the pages.
Newspapers, radio shows and television program are bully pulpits that have often been used for personal gain and advancement as often as they have for more socially responsible efforts. We aren't elected by anyone but we have to win back your vote day after day by delivering a product in which the reader sees value.
The idea that a newspaper is "objective" is a nice pie in the sky idea. I believe that stories should be reported in the most inclusive, fair and non-judgmental way possible and this is what I've practiced and what I've urged my staff always to do.
A newspaper, though, is more than just a story. It's also a determination of which stories get covered and where they are placed. Do the stories have photos? How large are the photos? Is a story front page worthy? Is a story held for a big splash on Sunday or is it buried in the Saturday edition?
Do the stories that run underline an editorial viewpoint? Do they support a business or cause? Do the publishers or the owners of the newspaper influence what stories run?
Now some people in this business dismiss the idea of a slant. They are just plain ignorant or disingenuous. Please, be honest with your readers and viewers. They deserve it.
I view my responsibilities seriously. We serve readers and advertisers. We try to create a weekly news product that is desirable to both groups.
Yes, I have opinions. I voice them in this column. I put my picture and my name on them so no one can mistake them for being representative of anyone else but me. Not all papers do this.
My regular readers know that I'm a dreaded liberal who sometimes voices thoughts that have led some folks to call me a "closet Republican."
I do have a "slant." Here it is:
I like running stories about good works people helping each other out.
I like underdogs.
Election coverage needs to be as inclusive as possible.
I like the organizations and individuals who may not get much attention from the larger media but have interesting stories.
I like good elected officials, but have little time for ones who abuse the public's trust.
I like making readers happy by seeing the accomplishments of their friends and family in our newspapers.
I would rather tell people about an up-coming event than reporting on it afterwards.
I applaud the small or local business owner who is contributing to the advancement of the communities they serve.
I'm not here to tell people for whom to vote or to shove an issue down their throats. If they agree with something I write, fine. If not, that's okay, too.
All constructive viewpoints are welcomed on the opinions page fro readers. I'm tired of mean-spirited material.
I know I don't have all the answers and I know I make mistakes.
I have pride in western Massachusetts and its people.
I'm basically a Jeffersonian kind of guy who believes that people, if given access to information, will seek out the truth.
That's pretty much my editorial slant. I think it would be great if other news outlets honestly shared theirs.
Just as I was finishing this column I received an e-mail from WRKO in Boston that former House Speaker Thomas Finneran has been hired to be its new morning drive talk show host.
This comes just days after his conviction for obstruction of justice.
WRKO recently dismissed its entire news staff and apparently has been having ratings problems. Considering the station is the home of Howie Carr, known for his long-standing criticism of Finneran and his record, this decision smells like a publicity stunt to me.
Rewarding someone like Finneran, though, with his kind of gig smells even more.
This column represents the opinions of its author. Send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or to 280 N. Main St., East Longmeadow, MA 01028.