Food for the journalism soul in crazy times

We live in truly crazy and sophomoric times.
I don’t care who you voted for in the last presidential election; I don’t care where you fall on the political spectrum. At the national level, it’s become a big mudslinging match with all sides involved, including some of our Beltway news media brethren.
All too often, people have allowed their ideology to overwhelm their intellect – and their tempers to run roughshod over reason and accommodation.
And if you’re like me, you’ve noticed some of that mud has splattered on us hometown newspapers.
The cry of “FAKE NEWS” has gone out far and wide. It’s made things tougher for our industry in the battle for transparency in Austin. Heck, I’ve even seen it directed at my newspaper. Some Facebook-posting goobers use it so loosely they’d probably level the charge at us over a story announcing the new stock show & rodeo queen.
It can be so disheartening.
Which is why the recent 2018 Texas Press Association Midwinter Conference & Trade Show in Galveston was real food for the journalism soul.
We were able to take a time out from the national insanity and look and listen to what we really are all about. We offered congratulations and gave a big “attaboy” to Publisher Bill Patterson, who committed the gutsy, audacious act of buying back his family’s old paper – the Denton Record-Chronicle – from a chain. Bill and his staff figured it was time to make the ultimate commitment in focusing all of their efforts and resources on their hometown.
We heard from Leonard Woolsey, Brenda Burr, Yvonne Mintz, Michael Smith, Mary Henkel Judson and Laurie Ezzell Brown, who moved us with stories of how their staffs along the Gulf Coast and in the Panhandle coped with, covered and survived Hurricane Harvey and devastating wildfires. These newspaper staffs made their personal safety and considerations secondary to the desire to help their fellow citizens.
And we inducted four new members into the Texas Newspaper Foundation Hall of Fame: Mike Cochran, Victor B. Fain, John C. Taylor and Dolph Tillotson. Each of these inductees shared a common trait: an undying fealty to the notion that good journalism is dedicated to a community – large or small – and helps make that community a better place.
It was during the Hall of Fame dinner that I heard what could be, perhaps, the best prescription for warding off the “FAKE NEWS!” virus sweeping the nation. It came from keynote speaker Al Cross, from the Institute for Rural Journalism.
“As you defend journalism, you don’t have to defend the networks or the big papers; you can use some of their failings to explain what journalism is supposed to be,” he told the audience. “But you are journalists, or employers of journalists, so I think it is in your interest to defend journalism – and to help people understand that it has standards and principles, and that it is to be held accountable, just as it holds others accountable.
“But the most important thing you can do for journalism, and the news business that pays for it, is to show its value to your community. That means you must produce journalism that helps set the public agenda for your community; that holds public officials and institutions accountable; that provides a fair forum for debate; and that acts as a leader in the community.”
Al’s advice reminds me of what a mentor once told me, “You can’t control how other people will treat you. All you can control is how you react. And how you choose to react can make all the difference in the world.”
Let’s keep making all the difference in the world.