Explaining the purpose of community journalism

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 11, 2008

There are a few things you should know about me before we get this column started: First and foremost, I love the newspaper business. A newspaper is often a cruel and fickle mistress, but I love it just the same.

That love once caused me to move 2,000 miles away from home &8212; in the best interest of my career, of course. I came to my senses after a couple of years of unseasonable snow and ice in Wyoming and moved back south.

I&8217;ve been stabbed once and shot at twice in the course of my chosen profession. This business has cost me at least one relationship and much of my sanity. I&8217;ve been writing for newspapers, large and small, since I was 16 years old. Thinking about that makes me feel old.

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I&8217;ve hit deadline &8212; and missed a few, too. I&8217;ve won some awards, scooped the competition and been scooped back. I&8217;ve seen and done things I would never have if I hadn&8217;t been a journalist.

And yet I make mistakes. All journalists do &8212; don&8217;t ever let them tell you differently. For most of us it happens in the rush to be first, to get the story. We often forget that being first shouldn&8217;t be our top priority. Being right should come before being first.

That brings me to council members Charles Jones and Thomas Moore. Earlier this week, I was attempting to refer to Jones, but called him &8220;Charles Moore&8221; in print. I&8217;m not sure exactly how I got to that point, but I&8217;d bet it had something to do with trying to beat our 10:30 p.m. deadline.

Regardless, I owe them both an apology. Each of them has a record of distinguished service to Demopolis, and they both deserve to be correctly identified in the paper.

I often get asked why the newspaper and the city administration don&8217;t seem to get along &8212; why the newspaper seems to often focus on the bad.

My answer is the same as my old journalism professor, Gordon &8220;Mac&8221; McKerrall once said: &8220;If the people you cover like you, you are probably not doing your job.&8221; The fact is, the city and the newspaper have different agendas. Local government is supposed to try to move forward with its vision for the city. Journalists should be the watchdogs of government, ensuring that those policies are in fact for the best &8212; and ensuring that politicians aren&8217;t using their positions to further personal gain.

When readers perceive the newspaper and the city are in conflict, it&8217;s often because the paper is doing its job &8212; regarding elected officials with some sense of scrutiny and suspicion.

To do anything less would be a disservice to local cities in general and to our readers in specific.

Bobby Mathews is managing editor of The Times. He can be reached at 334-289-4017 or bobby.mathews@demopolistimes.com