National media could learn from community journalists

“In the end, the discipline of verification is what separates journalism from entertainment, propaganda, fiction, or art.”

—Bill Kovach – American journalist and co-author of the book, The Elements of Journalism: What Newspeople Should Know and The Public Should Expect

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Self-incarceration at home might be good when there’s a controversial virus lurking about, but it can sure take its toll on one’s sanity. Many folks who are otherwise ordinarily easy-going types are doing crazy things now. Like me climbing up on my soapbox about the sad state of what is being pedaled as journalism by the majority of the national media outlets.

My father cautioned me, “Son, don’t argue with idiots. Most bystanders can’t tell the difference.” Sorry Dad, this bunch is destroying our country and sorely in need of advice.

My thoughts have nothing to do with politics or societal differences of opinion. Your politics or philosophies may not agree with mine, and that’s perfectly normal. Dad was also quick to remind that it would be a boring world if we all thought the same thing and agreed on everything. So I’m holding out hope that maybe someday we’ll return to a society where civilized people discuss differences and respect each other enough to disagree and still remain friends instead of stooping to belittle, defame, and strip rights away from those with whom we disagree.

The downward spiral in parts of the profession in which I’ve invested a lifetime in learning, practicing, teaching, and mentoring is not just disturbing, in my opinion, it has also contributed to and continues to fuel the fires of civil unrest we’re dealing with today. The worst part is that it’s killing one of the basic cornerstones of the republic—a credible press reporting balanced news covering all sides of every story, even those that may be distasteful to the reporter.

Despite the unsavory state of national networks and publications, responsible journalism is far from dead. It thrives in fact, where dedicated journalists still work to give their audience fair and balanced reporting aimed at preserving and improving local communities where they reside and work. It’s called community journalism, and national news outlets would do well to take lessons.

Wherever they get it, virtually every major news source burning newsprint and air time appears to be sorely in need of J-school 101 refresher courses for principles they either failed to learn or have forgotten while catering to personal agendas and stockholders focused more on bottom lines than getting to the bottom of the truth.

I’ve been blessed with good community journalism mentors in my career, many who were fortunate to have worked for Carmage Walls, one of the most respected community newspaper owners in recent times. Mr. Walls, a Georgia native, was dedicated to holding his newspaper publishers to high standards for producing a quality product for the readers, giving back to the communities that supported them, and returning a profit to their stockholders…and in that order.

Letters he wrote to young publishers in the ’50s and ’60s set forth principles and expectations that remain today as the philosophy of Southern Newspapers, the company for which his daughter Lissa Walls serves as chief executive officer.

In one, he wrote, “My conception of a newspaper is that it is the greatest force for good or evil in a community. It is a semi-public utility. We who are fortunate in holding stock in a newspaper I consider but temporary custodians of this service vehicle in the community. By our ownership of the stock we also assume tremendous responsibilities, first to the public that we service, second to the employees, and lastly to the stockholders.”

In another, he said, “I believe our democracy and way of life in this country could not be continued without our free press,” adding, “I am convinced that too many newspapers are edited to please the publisher-owner-editor without enough regard to the reader.”

What a vast disparity looms between those philosophies aimed at addressing what is on the minds of most Americans regarding the preservation of our nation for future generations, and the shallow, petty, lop-sided, and thinly disguised attacks on elected leadership and policy spewed by many news “celebrities” today.

Before I surrender my soapbox (I’m scared of heights anyway) and return to my otherwise ordinarily easy-going persona, I’ll offer another Bill Kovach quote. “If we’re going to live as we are in a world of supply and demand, then journalists had better find a way to create a demand for good journalism.”

That demand, in my opinion, can come only with a swing back to fair and balanced reporting, open and civil exchange of views free of agendas, and clear reporting of the facts void of bias and distortion. In other words, responsible journalism that is not entertainment, propaganda, fiction, or art.

—Leon Aldridge

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Aldridge columns are published in these Texas newspapers: The Center Light and Champion, the Mount Pleasant Tribune,  the Rosenberg Fort Bend Herald, the Taylor Press, and the Alpine Avalanche.

© Leon Aldridge and A Story Worth Telling 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Leon Aldridge and A Story Worth Telling with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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