Loftier ideals and realities are important, but practical execution also is critical.
The thought struck me as I’ve read various pieces in the Index-Journal in the last several days. As you might have noticed if you read the paper — in print or online — recently, Oct. 6-12 was National Newspaper Week. This paper ran a host of guest columns and editorials marking the occasion, most of which stressed the gravity of the First Amendment and freedom of the press, and their standing as part of the connective tissue that forms the bedrock of this nation.
“Shielded by truth, journalists for nearly three centuries have been free to jab their pens at those who threaten the First Amendment,” Miles Ventimiglia, executive editor of The Richmond (Missouri) Daily News, wrote in a guest column — titled “First Amendment binds all American freedoms”— that appeared in the Index on Friday. “There are myriad examples involving religion alone. They include news reports about Congress trying to disenfranchise Mormons in the late 1880s and extend to modern times and the painful recognition that even vile speech, such as that practiced by Westboro Baptist Church, must be permitted as a religious liberty.
“Journalists help keep us free to question, learn and disagree.”
A powerful sentiment, no doubt, and one that speaks to the overarching practice of journalism as a sort of crusading enterprise.
But, beyond the greater crusade, at the most basic level, we’re simply driven to let you know what’s going on in your community. I’ve been in newspapers for 15 years, and that basic tenet — finding a story, big or small, that I think will matter to readers, then telling it to them — is a major part of what gets me out of bed in the morning.
There’s a lot going on, and we want you to know about it. We can’t get to every story, by a long stretch, but it isn’t for lack of trying.
For instance, consider just a few of the bylined stories the Index published in the last week: The Greenwood Commissioners of Public Works board voted to eliminate fluoride from the city’s water supply. Abbeville’s County director David Garner has apparently sought another job, and is a finalist for an administrative position down in Georgetown County. The City of Greenwood is considering spending millions to significantly upgrade its main fire department and public works facility, and it has called in a Columbia bond law specialist to help in developing a spending plan for the project.
There was a piece on Empty Bowls, one of the chief fundraisers for the Greenwood Soup Kitchen, a keystone charitable organization serving the less fortunate in the Lakelands. There were pieces about local people tragically killed in car crashes, an item about insurance plans being offered to employees of a local grocery chain, an examination of the state’s proposed new public education funding formula, photos from a house that burned down in Due West, and even a piece on a car dealership in nearby Honea Path that’s giving customers a Bible and a voucher for an assault rifle if they’ll buy a new car.
There were, of course, plenty of stories about the various high school football teams in the Lakelands, all those Eagles and Panthers and Vikings and Hornets and Chiefs and Tigers and others who dare to dream under the Friday night lights. We had a host of stories about breast cancer awareness and local treatment and prevention initiatives, and pieces about local live theater, arts openings and a new exhibit at The Museum in Greenwood.
Now, I realize we live in an era where the whipped up political rhetoric of the day has increasingly caused the citizenry to take an antagonistic view of the press. I remain ever hopeful that fever will eventually break.
In the meantime, take a look at the stories I listed above, all of which appeared in the pages of the Index-Journal, and on its website. Those are local stories, about people and entities in this community. They deal with how your tax dollars are being spent and how your drinking water is treated and how your children are being educated and how your favorite local football team is doing and how area charities are helping meet the needs of the poor.
Let’s just be honest, now: If we’re not telling you those stories, who is?
So, yeah, we stand behind the lofty ideal of brandishing the First Amendment, and recognize the essential role of a free press in a democracy.
But on a more direct level, we honestly want to tell your stories. To be a mirror that reflects the complexities and trials and triumphs of the community, as they happen.
Basically we want to let you know what’s going on, and we plan on continuing to do it.