“Dynamic” was the word marked out with a red pencil.
I remember it well because it was the first real-world, boots-on-the-ground newspaper article I wrote— and there was my pride and joy with a big red slash through the word “dynamic.”
The editor said, “Don’t tell me she’s dynamic. Show me she’s dynamic.”
And with those words, he gave me a real-world life lesson that is with me to this day: Do not ever use adjectives or adverbs in a news story. Because by inserting an adjective or an adverb, the writer is inserting an opinion in what is supposed to be just fact.
That truism is the bare bone basics of the real journalism that we, at The Southeast Sun and Daleville Sun Courier, strive to bring you every day because you deserve that from your community newspapers.
A recent citizen survey commissioned by the city of Enterprise revealed that newspapers are the primary source of information about city issues, services and events for 65 percent of the citizens. That was followed by 37 percent and 26 percent of the citizens who said they receive their information by television and radio, respectively.
While we value and and are humbled by the citizen vote of confidence, as print journalists we realize that we have an advantage over our electronic media friends because we have the opportunity to recount the event in greater detail than a one-minute sound bite or video clip.
And as journalists, we strive to keep a professional distance, to make sure we do not become part of the story or insert our opinions into that story.
National Newspaper Week is Oct. 7-13. This year’s theme is “Journalism matters. Now more than ever.”
This 78th annual celebration is aimed at highlighting the impact of newspapers in their respective communities.
Architects of the Constitution of the United States in 1787 felt that if the fledgling nation was going to exemplify the democracy they strove for, there needed to be some amendments added to ensure the people’s right to know what their government was doing.
A result was 10 amendments, the first of which protects citizen’s freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly, freedom of the press and the right to petition.
Taxpayers, shareholders, citizens have the right to know how and why their dollars are being used. They might not agree with the decisions made, but people do have the right to hear the reasoning and discussion that went in to making them. It is called transparency.
As journalists we are observers. It is our job to watch and report. Someone said once that news reporting is the first draft of history. We take that responsibility seriously.
Seek truth and report it. Minimize harm. Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived. Be accountable and transparent. That’s the short version of what journalists are charged with doing every day according to the Society of Professional Journalists’ code of ethics.
“Public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy,” reads the code’s preamble. “Ethical journalism strives to ensure that the free exchange of information is accurate, fair and thorough.”
“The people are the only censors of their governors and even their errors will tend to keep these to the true principles of their institution. To punish these errors too severely would be to suppress the only safeguard of the public liberty,” United States founding father—and ultimately third president—Thomas Jefferson wrote to a friend in 1787.
“The way to prevent these irregular interpositions of the people is to give them full information of their affairs thro’ the channel of the public papers and to contrive that those papers should penetrate the whole mass of the people,” Jefferson added. “And were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them.”
Amen, Mr. Jefferson.
Michelle Mann is a staff writer for The Southeast Sun and Daleville Sun-Courier. The opinions of this writer are her own and not the opinion of the paper. She can be reached at (334) 393-2969 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.