be told . . .
Sixty-odd years ago, when five newspapers competed in Marion County, the Record got a call from the mayor of a small town just down the road from one of our competitors.
Would we mind, the mayor asked, if his town declared the Record its official newspaper?
Having “county” as part of our name, we of course didn’t mind. But we had to wonder why. At the time, we didn’t really cover the community. We reminded the mayor that our competitor, much closer to his town, regularly assigned a reporter to every meeting of his town’s city council.
That’s why, he exclaimed. He didn’t want anyone covering what he and the council were doing.
Officials boycotting one newspaper and favoring another because it fails to cover news is nothing new. (Surprised to see no ads for Marion’s vacant city positions in our paper this week? We aren’t.)
Some people just don’t like having other people know what’s going on. They operate under the false assumption that if a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it, it doesn’t make a sound.
What it does create are rumors — grains of truth surrounded by harvests of falsehood.
Rumors wither, of course, when exposed to the light of truth. That’s why professional newspapers like ours put so much effort into obtaining and reporting as many facts as possible — even if some of those facts might end up embarrassing someone.
It’s better, we believe, to occasionally hear an unpleasant truth than it is to continually live in a vacuum, where falsehoods can breed.
Even an embarrassing truth can end up being valuable. Yes, some truths lead to scorn. But they also can bring sympathy. They can provoke change. They can spur new ideas. Most important, they put everything in perspective so people can make honest, intelligent decisions rather than remain in the dark, subject to all manner of deception that ignorance fosters.
Journalists are an odd breed. We’re human. We wish every fact we report could be regarded as positive by every person who reads it. And we constantly go out of our way to find such facts to write about.
But we also realize it’s not our job to decide whether facts are positive or negative. We simply provide them. It’s up to others to decide what to do with them.
This week, an admitted non-reader came to us, complaining about our coverage of how a photo of a scantily clad downtown business owner, soon to be a relative, figured in the firing of Marion’s city administrator.
According to our visitor, the business owner has been boycotted by some of her customers since we reported that she at one time worked as an adult film model.
The business owner, our visitor said, has changed her ways and now is involved in worthwhile and wholesome activities. But we, according to our visitor, denied her a second chance.
Truth be known, it wasn’t us who couldn’t forgive and forget. It was her customers. We provided facts. They decided what to make of them. Would it have been better if we had kept them in the dark? Maybe. But that sort of thinking opens up a manner of ethical dilemmas.
Would we be more likely to withhold facts about people we know and like and less likely to do so about people we just as well could do without?
We’ve never been comfortable making such decisions. Instead, we use a different standard.
If some portion of a story has made its way onto the gossip circuit, we try our best to get the whole story so people don’t jump to wrong conclusions. That may embarrass some people, but the embarrassment comes from truth, not rumor. And, as we said before, it might lead to as much sympathy as it does scorn.
Our visitor was about to leave when we pointed out that just the night before, monitored transmissions indicated that police officers had checked the license plate of a vehicle owned by the business owner.
What if that got on the gossip circuit? About the same time, police were investigating drag-racing at the county lake. Perhaps a rumor would start that the business owner was an irresponsible driver as well.
Our visitor left and called back a couple of hours later. She had asked about the license plate being checked and learned that a young relative had borrowed the car and stopped to help another motorist change a flat tire.
That’s the point. If the story of the license plate being checked had made its way onto the gossip circuit, wouldn’t she have felt better if the additional fact that her relative that was merely being neighborly also got into circulation?
Facts are facts. Sometimes, some people don’t want us to, but we’ll report them — so everyone knows what’s happening and everyone can make up his or her mind what to think about it, just as you will about this editorial.
— ERIC MEYER