The turn of events this week has caused me to want to share some inside baseball about this wacky job my colleagues and I have. I was chastised this week for a recent opinion piece and it got me to thinking.
I once attended a writing seminar about 13 years ago at which editorial writers from the Chicago Tribune spoke. They detailed their process, which included research on their own of a subject and an avoidance of reading their own ‘paper’s coverage of a topic. They also stay removed from the rest of the staff of the ‘paper and write their pieces – which reflect the official stance of the organization, in a sort of journalistic vacuum.
On one hand I found their system to be sterile and removed, but of course I understand why they do it. They want to protect the reporters from being accused of bias.
It’s frankly easier to have one person writing a column that can touch on opinions of local events and personalities, while other people write “the news.” Such a system reinforces the notion of objectivity, a cherished idea that modern journalism has long wanted to flourish in the public consciousness.
Of course, too many people still believe we all have an agenda of some sort.
While I believe in doing the best job as possible in reporting a story to its fullest is the goal all of us strive to accomplish here at Reminder Publications, I have to say the challenge is also determining variables such as which stories we put on our front covers, the headlines that accompany them and how they are illustrated. All of those latter decisions fall within the realm of subjectivity.
What we feel is the best story may be to some audiences the worst.
For 15 years, I’ve worked as a reporter/editor – first in my role of as the editor of the Chicopee Herald and then as managing editor for the company.
It’s not easy at times to explain what I do when I have the title “managing editor” because relatively few people with that title do what I do. In most cases they’ve laid down the reporter’s pad and pen for loftier managerial duties.
Lucky me. I remain quite grounded.
I have to make sure the stories I write are not opinion pieces and the opinion pieces I write do not compromise the stories. That’s a balancing act and I’ve learned a few things from the experience.
First and foremost, I cannot please all of the people all of the time. I can attempt to do so on a weekly basis, but I acknowledge reality.
Depending upon the situation, I am – like most reporters – the ultimate insider. People trust me and take me into their confidence if it suits their immediate purpose. Walk into a room at the wrong time or under different circumstances, though, and a reporter is the ultimate outsider – the cheese that stands alone.
I’ve also learned that no matter how many times I’ve written a story that has been viewed as unbiased and perhaps even helpful to a cause, person or organization, all it takes is one story or opinion piece they don’t like and I’m on the outs.
Some people have little sense of context and I deeply appreciate the elected officials who do indeed possess it.
Another lesson is that while some people may agree with your opinion – which I hasten to add are not written to represent the interests of anyone but myself – you will seldom hear from them. Instead you tend to receive correspondence from readers who may just disagree with you or believe you to be The Great Satan or just a standard issue idiot.
And as regular readers know, I print letters that certainly present a different point of view to my own. I see it as my responsibility to do so.
It’s not baling hale or cleaning out a barn – both of which I’ve done – but at times this job does feel hard.
I’m not sure which definition from Ambrose Bierce’s “The Devil’s Dictionary” applies to me the most, but at moments like these I take solace in their sarcasm.
“REPORTER, n. A writer who guesses his way to the truth and dispels it with a tempest of words.”
“EDITOR, n. A person who combines the judicial functions of Minos, Rhadamanthus and Æacus, but is placable with an obolus [an ancient Greek coin] ; a severely virtuous censor, but so charitable withal that he tolerates the virtues of others and the vices of himself; who flings about him the splintering lightning and sturdy thunders of admonition till he resembles a bunch of firecrackers petulantly uttering its mind at the tail of a dog; then straightway murmurs a mild, melodious lay, soft as the cooing of a donkey intoning its prayer to the evening star. Master of mysteries and lord of law, high-pinnacled upon the throne of thought, his face suffused with the dim splendors of the Transfiguration, his legs intertwisted and his tongue a-cheek, the editor spills his will along the paper and cuts it off in lengths to suit. And at intervals from behind the veil of the temple is heard the voice of the foreman demanding three inches of wit and six lines of religious meditation, or bidding him turn off the wisdom and whack up some pathos.”
Agree? Disagree? Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 280 N. Main St., East Longmeadow, MA 01028. As always, this column represents the opinion of its author and not the publishers or advertisers of this newspaper.