Staff Editorial: Fighting mediocrity is a large struggle
For most of us it is hard to come to work every day and do the very best we can. Some days, all of us are up to it; but there are also days when it is tempting to say "that just has to be good enough" when we finish a project or complete our days work with an eye on going home.
I guess it's just human nature to feel that way sometimes.
In the newspaper business deadlines, a lack of information about a story or pressures from various groups can make it easy to be mediocre. In fact, as I have examined the situation since I took over as publisher of this paper, about 90 percent of the pressure put on newspaper staff is to put out a mediocre publication. Only about 10 percent of the pressure we see really wants the very best out of us.
I know that is hard to understand, but from my experience while working in the newspaper business I am actually amazed that all newspapers do as well as they do.
When one finds a good newspaper in a town it is because someone or some team of people at the newspaper really care about their community, and have resisted many of the pressures to put out a paper that doesn't serve the community well.
What are those pressures? Let me give you some examples of them that I have seen since I began in this business.
Someone comes into our office and asks us not to print their name in the jail bookings or court cases because if their boss finds out they were arrested or convicted they will lose their job. When we tell them that we cannot remove one name without removing them all, then it becomes our fault that they were booked. I always point out to these people that over the years we have had employees and employee's kids appear in the jail bookings and we never took their names out. That usually doesn't satisfy them. Sometimes their lawyers then call me and try to convince me and when I refuse to take their clients name out of the bookings the "S" word comes up. At that point I tell them it is time to end the conversation, and they can do what they will.
A good advertiser contacts us because his business is involved in some way with some type of accident or something illegal, and he doesn't want us to print anything about it or put any photos in. I point out that when we have the facts we must try our best to cover the news equally. Often what we get is innuendo on many situations instead of facts however, and a story isn't warranted. We also get the opposite pressure from community members who don't like someone or their business and they want us to print what amounts to unsubstantiated rumors. We won't cooperate with either end of the spectrum.
Sometimes telling the truth is very hard. As I have worked as a reporter over the years I have found myself taking a liking to many of our public officials. However if a story needs to be printed that would put them in an unfavorable light, it is our job to print it. That has happened a couple of times and the next time I see them things are usually a bit icy. It's easy to over look things when someone is a good guy, but in our business when they are wrong, they are wrong. Not reporting it doesn't make them right.
Sometimes we get asked to not print something because it is bad for our town or some group of people. No place is perfect and our paper needs to be a reflection of our community, both the perceived good and the perceived bad. For instance if we capture photos of people riding motorcycles down Main Street without helmets and print them we sometimes get complaints that we are setting a bad example for kids by publishing those images. First of all, it is not illegal for adults to ride motorcycles without helmets. Secondly, once again, this is how our community lives. We always consider community sensitivities when we print certain kinds of photos, but we also fear sanitizing what really happens too much as well. It is a difficult balancing act.
Mediocrity sometimes comes from being lazy; but in our business more often than not, it comes from giving into pressures from some in the community about what we should and shouldn't print.
We must resist that pressure, or our proud, nearly 115 year old paper will go the way of the five cent candy bar.