The eyes of the community
I recently learned the story of Argus Panoptes, the many-eyed monster charged by Zeus' jealous wife Hera with the task of guarding his current mistress, the nymph Io. The story is lengthy and quite interesting. However, it is a small portion of the plot which inspired this column. In one of the myth's many versions, Zeus sends Hermes to slay Argus and free Io. When Hera learns the fate of her fallen guardian, she removes his many eyes and places them on the tale of her favorite bird the peacock, providing Argus with an eternal honor. The eyes of Argus are always open and they see much.
I heard this story through Audible, the Android application that has pretty much taken over my life. It's digital audio library keep me in books just about 24/7. The myth of Argus is told as part of "Don't know much about Greek Mythology." Wherein the author explains the monicker of a Mount Vernon daily newspaper, The Daily Argus, which closed its doors in 1994. I was immediately struck by the imagery of a newspaper, ever watchful with many eyes. That is the soul of a newspaper; many eyes which attempt to always remain watchful because unlike the human mind which forgets, once an eye has seen, it cannot unsee.
The Sun Advocate has printed under several names and owners for more than 120 years. Its stories, photos and reporting have been a constant in this community for the great majority of Carbon County's existence. The Sun Advocate's pages have chronicled the history of our lives. Several media sources now race to have the first word in local news but the Sun Advocate always has had the last word. The paper's archives are the skeletons in this community's closet, its unique microfiche or newer digital archives tell the good and the bad, the beautiful and the grotesque history of Utah's Castle County.
I am extremely proud to be a part of that. I was told by my grandfather that a man who enjoys his work is either stupid or lucky. Depending on who you talk to, I fit into one of those categories. However, that enjoyment is lined with a price, as Spiderman is told in every horrid remake of his creation tale, "with great power comes great responsibility."
Please understand that I don't have delusions of grandeur about having great power, but serving as the community's eyes when they aren't around to see for themselves has value. One of the first writers I worked with in this industry was a great reporter. He was abrasive and outspoken and I didn't always agree with his stance but he always had one and he always told the truth. He welcomed the angry comments that would always follow unpopular pieces and he never backed down from anyone.
Telling your wife or your parents the truth is something most people get a firm grip on. However, dropping the truth like a brick on the whole community can be difficult and expensive. The line between ethical reporting and the bankruptcy office can get mighty thin and paper money isn't the only currency a reporter deals in. Try writing a lengthy piece about one of your childhood friends getting busted for drugs or an old family acquaintance's sentencing for child abuse.
When I started writing eight years ago, the editorial and sales department were almost systematically separated and the opinion of a paper's editor and sales director on most any issue would tend to resemble a discussion between Bill Maher and Rush Limbaugh. Even that tool has shifted as reporters now sell and sellers now report. In this situation, a person's ethics and the ethics of their superiors are really all that stands between the prevalence of complete propaganda labeled as news.
Money and the truth don't mesh and while children are often gifted with the luxury of a clear conscience, adults are riddled with consequences. Pushing forward a piece that exposes massive corruption is amazing until you see that it just cost five or six people their jobs because everyone involved was a major advertiser. While that scenario may seem a bit melodramatic, small papers are faced with like situations regularly and they land on the side of truth. It's the reason they are around.
The reporter who sits through a three hour commission session after a 10 hour work day is there for you. He serves as your eyes and ears. His ability to refine what he witnesses and meld it into an interesting and brief story is more than important, it is a pillar of our way of life.
Self government is difficult when nobody knows what is going on. And it gets much more difficult to see the truth when somebody with a fat wallet and a major stake in the game is trying desperately to turn off the lights.