Editor’s Column: Leading without malice

The museum display at the White River Museum that includes James Lyttle’s original printing press also includes a plaque naming and honoring Richard Lyttle. The first line reads: “Many years he spoke for us.” The second line reads, “Leading without malice.”

The Lyttles (and the Cooks) set the bar when it comes to speaking for the people of Rio Blanco County, but “leading without malice” might be the best idea for a newspaper tagline yet.
Malice is defined as “the intention or desire to do evil; ill will.” By that definition “leading without malice” means leading without the desire to do evil.
If that doesn’t sum up the journalistic code of ethics I don’t know what does. It’s not our job to generate conflict, stir up trouble or create problems. It is our job to report the news as accurately and fairly as possible, in a reasonably timely manner (being a weekly makes that challenging).
When there are topics up for debate we endeavor to “be Switzerland” by not taking sides. That’s why we don’t endorse political candidates, for example.
In my opinion, there are three sides to the truth: your perception of the situation, my perception of the situation, and reality.
Sometimes taking that kind of “mild-mannered” stance puts us at odds with readers, who think we should “dig deeper” and “expose the corruption” and “find the dirt,” particularly when it comes to local government. If we don’t respond to their vociferous cries for “justice,” we get accused, sometimes rather rudely, of not doing our jobs.
I’ve started to see a pattern in these complaints. They almost always come from the same handful of folks, and those folks, no matter what group they get involved with or what meeting they attend, take offense, feel slighted, get angry, and then want the newspaper to come along and tell everyone how mistreated they were.
I can’t tell you the number of hours I’ve wasted trying to get to the root of someone’s complaint about something, only to find that there’s nothing to report on. Just this week I received a middle of the night diatribe from someone in Moffat County who apparently got fired from a county position and wanted the newspaper, or someone, to do a write-up about how his supervisor sleeps on the job, and another one used drugs, and how his termination was unjust.
I wrote back and explained that we don’t cover Moffat County. That was the easy way out, and I feel vaguely guilty for directing him to the Craig Press.
No one told me I would need a psychology degree to be a newspaper editor, but I’m thinking those classes I took in college are certainly coming in handy.
Meanwhile, challenge yourself this week: which of your news outlets and social media groups are purposefully attempting to “lead without malice”? If they aren’t, maybe it’s time to look for a new one. Just a thought.

By Niki Turner