A bias toward trust

Calendars are turning to September and with it, the state religion of high school football. Here’s hoping that your favorite teams have successful seasons!

One of the things I love about being in a community newspaper is that, in a typical week, the football team is the topic of discussion – even in a presidential election year!

I’m not going to get into presidential politics, except to make a note about the national media for a point later in this column. I often hear comments about “bias” in “the media.” At the national level, and particularly in the broadcast media, I think the only bias is toward ratings.

At the “hyper local” level in which most of us exist, the need to be measured and accurate takes precedence over the noise of those seeking the largest audience.

I once had someone who accused me, after a particular story, that I was just “trying to sell newspapers.”

Well, of course, I want to sell newspapers, but I explained the reality of community newspapers to this person. I pointed out that our paper sells for 75 cents. On a really hot week, and I mean papers flying off the shelves, we might sell 100 extra papers, I explained. So even if every paper sold was pure profit, which it is not, the best I could do would be an extra $75 or so.

And that’s not worth the aggravation that comes with a controversial story.

That doesn’t mean we don’t print such stories, but the overriding factor is not how many papers we will sell this week, but how we establish trust with our readers over time. It’s a whole ‘nother ballgame than ABC News!

This little diatribe is a preface to talk about some of the people we lost over the past month.

Willis Webb spent his life in the business, and found himself in the midst of a firestorm in Jasper, where he published the Jasper Newsboy.

As happens from time in our communities, the national media descends like locusts, eager to consume whatever they can find that might shout to potential viewers louder than their competition. (Ask Randy Mankin what happens when CNN comes to town!)

Local newspapers are still there after the national media moves on to the Next Big Thing, and in Willis’ case, the Jasper Newsboy played a major role in the healing and reconciliation that came to Jasper after a horrible racially-charged incident.

And, as so often happens, it became an opportunity for growth as Willis shared the experience with other publishers at a TPA convention.

We also lost Sarah Green in August. Sarah and Willis both served as presidents of TPA and were people I have looked up to. They will both be missed. They both exemplified a bias toward trust.

A third loss for me personally is someone you probably never heard of. When I purchased The Community News in 1995, there was a byline for J.W. Kelly. J.W. was one of the biggest sports fans in Aledo. Legally blind, J.W. still managed to cover baseball and football for me in the early days.

My favorite story was one day when Aledo had a home baseball game. J.W. and his seeing-eye dog, Spencer, were at the game. A player for Aledo was up to bat, the pitch came, and the umpire called a strike.

“That was outside!” The yell came from J.W.

When I think I’m having a bad day, I often think back to that umpire, wondering how it would feel to have my call challenged by a guy with a seeing eye dog!