Setting a few things straight
“The average newspaper, especially of the better sort, has the intelligence of a hillbilly evangelist, the courage of a rat, the fairness of a prohibitionist boob-jumper, the information of a high school janitor, the taste of a designer of celluloid valentines, and the honor of a police-station lawyer.” — Renowned newspaperman H.L. Mencken
The processes that go into making almost any edition of almost any newspaper are a little like those that go into the making of sausages in that looking too closely at either is not apt to increase one’s appetite for its consumption. But that said, I have long thought it quite possible that my business just might be the one in our society about which the people outside it know the least about it, while at the same time considering themselves experts.
As a very wise man once sagely informed me, “Buy yourself a newspaper, son, and you will find out real soon that everybody who has a subscription thinks he’s a stockholder.”
And while that indeed proved to be the case after I did, what I have found to be even more prevalent are the myriad misconceptions that exist in the public mind about newspapers, some of which have been around them as long as I have.
To be sure, they are legion, but let us consider just a few of the most prominent, which is to say, most grievous of the misconceptions people hold about newspapers.
• “Newspapers love bad news.” — Bah! Any newspaper is a business and any business most prospers from good news in good times. We would far rather write about, say, a new business opening in town (the better to advertise, my dear) than say, either a business or home being burglarized or destroyed by fire.
• “Newspapers love ‘juicy’ stories.” — Well, sometimes. That depends upon what they are. If by “juicy,” one means catching a crooked politician being crooked, or catching a hypocrite within his hypocrisy, then, yes, we certainly do. But if by “juicy” one means a tragedy vested upon an individual or family, then I would remind him that within any community, no one, with the exceptions of physicians and preachers come into contact with more tragedies than do newspaper folk and there is no joy to be taken from the suffering of others, particularly when they are your friends and neighbors.
• “Newspapers just make stuff up.” — This is an opinion most frequently held by idiots and if you believe it, then you qualify. With as many lawyers as there are in this country today, hell, as many as there are advertising on TV, just how long do you think any newspaper could get away with something like that? If we simply made something up about somebody and printed it, that somebody would sue our socks off — and should. Unlike the insidious anonymity inherent within gossip, we cannot later deny what is printed upon our pages.
• “Newspapers do this, that or the other ‘just to sell papers.’” — Please. This is another one that should be reserved strictly for the aforementioned idiots. This newspaper, like any one real one, does not rely on impulse purchase in the grocery store checkout line. Over the course of any given year, our circulation varies precious little. Yes, if there is a story with compelling local interest, more news stand sales may result, but the vast majority of those sales will be to people who already subscribe and just don’t want to wait on their edition in the mail. Besides, at a dollar a lick, we could sell a paper to every man, woman and child in (the city and county) and it would not pay the freight for its publication.
• “Newspaper people think they know it all.” — Well, some do, I guess. Just like some lawyers or barbers or farmers do. Fact is, to be a good journalist, one needs to know a little bit about a lot of things rather than a lot about any one. Most of the newspaper folk I know, which is to say most of them in this state have a considerably higher regard for common sense than they do for so-called expert opinions, perhaps because it is rarer.
When all is said and done, newspapers are essentially in the truth business. We try to find it, tell it and package it in such a way as to be best understood. Sometimes that truth is seen by the public to be good, other times it is seen is being not so.
And it is the truth, in matters large and small, that is most important to us newspaper folk. That is most often why we get into this crazy business, and almost always why we choose to remain in it.
What? You thought it was the money? The perks? That ever-present feeling of being loved by one and all?
Ray Mosby is editor and publisher of the Deer Creek Pilot in Rolling Fork.