Although the phrase is commonly attributed to the Joe Friday character on Dragnet (a popular TV show in the 1950s), it was actually coined as part of a Dragnet parody. Nevertheless, it makes for a good rule of thumb in journalism. On any given day, emails and phone calls (and sometimes live, warm bodies) come through the newspaper office with story suggestions, which we welcome. However, a hefty percentage of those suggestions can’t be used, and I’d like to explain why, so that no one thinks we’re just ignoring them.
1. Opinions, however valid, are not newsworthy. I know this comes as a shock to all of us who are soaking up social media and watching our presidential candidates play Twitter wars, but it’s true. We can’t base articles on an opinion, even our own. We do research the story behind the opinion to see if there’s something we can follow up on, but most of the time it’s something best suited as a letter to the editor. We welcome those, although there are rules about what we can and can’t print even in our opinion pages, too.
2. Getting the facts isn’t as easy as it seems. Let’s face it, people cringe when they know the newspaper is calling, or in attendance at a meeting. Folks tend to avoid returning your call or responding to your email because they don’t want to be misrepresented, they don’t want to be misquoted, and they don’t want to be made a fool of in print. We don’t want that either, we just want to get the truth out. The alternative to getting all the facts in the newspaper as a matter of public record is simply letting the rumor mill run amok, and that’s not good for anyone. So if we call, it’s because we’re hoping to get your side of the story, not because we want to skewer you in the press.
3. A wise man (former Herald Times owner Mitch Bettis) once told me that there’s no way to completely eliminate bias from our reporting because, when it comes down to it, we’re all biased. But we can take steps to eliminate as much bias as possible, and that starts with limiting our reporting of news events to factual, confirmable data. It’s not necessarily the best way to sell papers or go viral on the Internet, but at least we can go home with a clear conscience.
4. Readers have a job, too, according to 16th century English philosopher Francis Bacon in “The Essays”: Read not to contradict and confute; nor to believe and take for granted; nor to find talk and discourse; but to weigh and consider. Come to think of it, that’s good advice for all of us, no matter what we’re reading.
I grew up in a small town. Our biggest complaint as teenagers back in the ’80s was that there “was nothing to do” where we lived. So, we used that as our excuse (even though we lived in an amazing resort community with tons of recreational opportunities), to party and do stupid things. Really, really stupid things. That same excuse is still floating around every small town in America. And kids are getting hurt, dying, or ending up with police records that will haunt them and hinder them for years. So this editor’s note isn’t for the adults—although we need to be responsible and not help the youth around us do stupid things—this is for all of the young people out there.
- Life, though it looms broad and long before you right now, is painfully short and fragile. Ask anyone who has just lost a loved one.
- As special as you are (and you know you are, because your parents and teachers have been telling you so for years), you aren’t invincible. Accidents happen, and when you put yourself in foolish situations with foolish people, accidents happen more often. n You might not think it matters, but what happens to you affects countless other people. Your family, your friends, your teachers, your neighbors, etc.
- Everywhere is the same. Kids in New York City are also whining that there’s nothing to do. The problem isn’t a lack of opportunities, it’s a lack of motivation to find something productive, proactive and positive to occupy your time. Believe me, adults have the same problem, we’re just tired and we have bills to pay. So I guess this is a plea. It’s the same plea I’ve made to my own young adult children. Find something to do and do it well. Use all that amazing energy you have right now to do something awesome. Stop risking your health and your future for the sake of a stupid party. Don’t take foolish chances, remember, life is short. Watch out for each other. Don’t let your friends do dumb things, either, because you care about them. Wear your seatbelt. Don’t drink and drive, and don’t hang out with people who do. If life is a gamble, why stack the cards against yourself?
Just three short weeks after Septemberfest, I’m sending out an urgent cry for help to our Rangely neighbors. We need your help! We need information about meetings and local events and photos. I understand people have been frustrated in the past because they sent things in that never made their way to the printed page, but this is a new day. For those of you who shared story tips with us at Septemberfest, we are in the process of tracking those down, but we are finding it difficult to get people to return calls and emails. So, if you’ve ever wanted to write for the paper, or know of a fun activity or cool story going on, please don’t keep it to yourself! Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org by Monday at 5 p.m. for that week’s paper.