Newspapers are important, my husband & Me
Posted May 10, 2010on:
One day as a young reporter for the La Crosse Tribune, I ran into someone who asked, “Are you Susan Hessel?” (This person didn’t mention the T.)
“Yes, I am,” I said, assuming she was recognizing me for my fine journalism work.
“You live upstairs from me,” she explained.
Ego immediately deflated, rightfully so.
Today is my husband’s last day of work at the La Crosse Tribune, from which he is retiring early after nearly 36 years there. He is a hell of a reporter and writer, one who spent most of his career on the Opinion Page as its editor and most recently writing about government and politics.
The Tribune also is the place where we met – we were the only young reporters at the time. Everyone else seemed so old – at least in his or her – gasp – 40s, which seem mighty young today.
Frankly, it’s where we were married. Yes, not at home plate, but in front of the linotype.
And I want to say that newspapers are important, not that we as individual reporters are important.
I attended college in the age of Watergate, when journalists were highly respected. It was their job – and mine – to find corruption and fight for the people, whoever we were and are. We also wrote feature stories about people.
It was heady stuff, important stuff, even if we were not the New York Times or Washington Post. People read stuff that had our names on it.
I am proud of our fierce commitment to fairness. We were committed to getting the story and getting it right. That does not mean we did not make mistakes; being human, we did.
Newspapers do the most intense and thorough reporting of any medium. For the most part it still is done with that commitment of impartiality.
A reporter’s role is different than on the opinion or editorial pages, where different voices are printed – and by definition opinions are not impartial.
As reporters, we were never supposed to be part of stories. We were the observers, not the participants.
That’s why I am appalled by how often the “experts” on the 24-hour news channels are reporters. Some appear night after night on these programs, giving their opinions while still writing about the subjects. They fill time on the channels, which need lots of fillers.
And the reporting on the news channels themselves is geared specifically for their target audiences: Fox for mostly conservatives, MSNBC for liberals and CNN for those in between, but especially for political junkies.
The race to get something on the air and keep it going 24 hours a day means errors are made because knowledge about the event or situation is far from complete.
I remember how terrified I would get when the TV show I was watching was suddenly replaced with, “We interrupt this broadcast to bring you this special report.” It was always something bad.
Every day there are “breaking” news stories that make it feel like everything is an emergency. Repeating that breaking news for hours and hours adds more fear to the mix. Let me give you one quick example of that: balloon boy. For hours, the news channel anchors prattled on about the boy who supposedly was in a giant balloon flying through the air. As it turned out, it was staged. In fact, the 6-year-old later said to an interviewer, “You guys said we did this for the show.” It was that family’s attempt to get a reality television show.
With the 24-hour news cycle, there is no time to determine if something is real or just an attempt to get on a “reality” television show. It just goes on and on.
The worst part of the 24-hour news cycle is that they are filled with opinions, delivered as truths. And they are all filtered for the audience who will hear the messages.
We used to say, “We’re all adults here. We can talk about it.” Increasingly, as I’ve written before, we don’t talk about it. We listen to those with whom we agree and yell at those who we don’t. (I’m as guilty as anyone in listening to people who think just like me.)
Writing for a newspaper or a broadcast is not the same as writing a blog. So-called citizen journalists can write anything they want without it being filtered by truth. I know that because I write a blog, which you are reading. How do we know anything I’m writing is true? Or, that I don’t have an axe to grind?
For all these reasons, I am convinced we must support newspapers and magazines, which are all struggling. Newsweek magazine is on the block for sale by the Washington Post. It is a victim, like other newspapers, of the 24-hour news cycle.
People expect to get news free on line. That was the big mistake for the print media, offering it all on line, as much as I enjoy finding it there. As Jon Meacham, editor of Newsweek, said in effect, you get what you pay for.
The La Crosse Tribune is not the New York Times or Washington Post. The scale is smaller; it has to be. A Utah paper said it best with this banner on its front page: “The Only Newspaper in the World that gives a damn about Milford, Utah.”
Local papers care about local people.
Subscribe to the La Crosse Tribune and/or other papers and magazines. You won’t read every word – I sure don’t. But they are important.
Jerry Rosso, a great reporter when I started writing for the Tribune, used to say, “A newspaper is like a smorgasbord.” You eat – read – what you want, all you want.
So, happy retirement to Dick, who you can find playing music anywhere and everywhere with his bands: Grand Picnic, Muddy Flats and the Hepcats, and even the Troubadogs (a blast from the past). Gigs always wanted.