Please, let us write the news for you
Two weeks ago The Times-News of Nephi reported a pretty interesting story.
One of the county commissioners there said he would like more control over articles that are being printed in that newspaper.
It seems recent reporting on a bid for bleachers made Juab County Commissioner Rick Carlton upset. I spent some time looking through back issues of the Times-News but couldn't find what made him want to issue written statements from the county commissioners on subjects as opposed to newspaper articles that are written by a reporter.
According to the paper he said "We would like the opportunity to make a written statement," about subjects he apparently felt were important. According to the report, he said that he wanted to make statements that were brief, short and to the point and would like items reported in the future to be more concise.
"We are asking for the cooperation of the newspaper with the commission," he stated.
He even said that maybe the commission should take out ads in the newspaper so they can get their side of the story out.
This of course would provide for a one sided view of goings-ons at the commission, on at least certain subjects.
The article got a big laugh around the editorial department here at the Sun Advocate. Of course some politicians would like to have the media work in cooperation with them; they would like their story told without extra material that might make the story reveal two or more sides of the news being reported. That's the way it was once in this county. Before 1932 the two papers in Price, The Sun and News-Advocate would take different sides. One proclaimed to be a Republican paper the other Democratic. Whatever politician they reported on, of course, would be made to look good or bad, depending on his party affiliation. That was the "fair and balanced" reporting that they used and is also used in certain media outlets today.
Now I am all for cooperation with government, especially our local officials. There are many things a local newspaper can do to support projects that are important and to help the reputation of a county or city . In many ways we should be a cheerleader for our area. But we should also be watch dogs. If anyone asked us to slant stories their way by not telling all that went on or what was behind a decision or discussion, we would balk. When I was a reporter, I found when someone asked me to keep something I had learned that compromised that persons stand on an issue or decision quiet, it was time to look deeper into what was going on.
As a reporter I never had a county commissioner in this county ask me to hide something from the public or to report it one sided. However I have had public officials of other kinds in some meetings in the county ask me not to report a statement they made. That very action draws the attention of a good reporter, who wants to know more. It is also very much against what a free press stands for; public meetings are public and statements made there are news.
I do like one thing that Commissioner Carlton stated though. That idea of the county buying space in the paper to tell their side of things would be fine, because we as a paper could always use the revenue. However, we would still report the story our way no matter what they put in their boxed ad.
The point is that our readers ask us to report the news as we see it and research it. That sometimes comes with the consequences of having to tell a part of a story that isn't very pretty or may affect an officials standing with some of the citizens of the area.
It's our job to do that as right as we can. Maybe the commissioner in Juab county needs to have a lesson in civics and the constitution. Or maybe he has been listening a little too much to the legislators who sponsored the GRAMA destruction bill last winter.
A free-to-report-news press is the basis for a strong country. I think we all would like to keep it that way.