It's a saying in the journalism world that people love to hate their local newspapers, and it's the prime topic when a gripe session ensues at the coffee shop. I've been thinking about the lack of appreciation for our profession ever since I read a story about a once-thriving newspaper that went from 250 employees in the mid-1990s to just two or three today.
It's a pity party, but not for me. I don't have too many years left, so I expect the newspaper industry to outlast me. As Paul said in 2 Timothy 4, I've "fought the good fight," and will continue to do so while I have breath in my body. The sadness I feel is for U.S. democracy, the First Amendment and the Fourth Estate, because too few people appreciate how precious are those elements of American life, and what a big role my industry plays in their tenuous survival. True, there are many substandard publications, and given the recent turn of events, it's obvious that "talking heads" on the boob tube - now tubeless, in most cases - are more prone to hysterics and rumor-mongering instead of the dissemination of factual information. That's not true of most community newspapers, whatever certain members of the public may say.
When you hear people blasting the "the local rag," it's usually a cover for the fact that the detractor or a friend or family member has at some point appeared in print in an unflattering light, or that the paper didn't adequately stroke that person's ego. And when someone dismisses a newspaper as part of the "liberal media," or makes claims of bias, it's almost a sure bet the naysayer doesn't even read the paper, but is advancing the stereotype to anyone within earshot, for his own personal reasons.
I've said this before: Just because a newspaper publishes viewpoints that don't agree with yours doesn't make it biased, unless those opinions find their way onto the news pages. And just because the paper may support some causes deemed progressive doesn't make it a "liberal rag." That can only be said of a newspaper that doesn't allow opposing viewpoints. I can't think of a single paper that fits this description, although I could name three in Oklahoma that tilt heavily conservative and discourage liberal views. I won't bother naming them, because many people don't consider a media source "unfair" if it hews closely to their own opinions.
It's OK with some liberals if a newspaper leans hard to the left, and certain conservatives applaud if it leans hard to the right. The truth is, those people are the ones whose lacy petticoats of "bias" are peeking out. An objective person should respect opinions from both sides of the political aisle, even if he doesn't agree with them. And he should demand his community newspaper offer a good cross-section. The Tahlequah Daily Press does that on its opinion pages, with columnists and our own opinions, and regular readers know it. But that doesn't stop non-readers from trumpeting their insideous claims.
Because I'm a long-time journalist, I'm interested in truth; therefore, when lies are told about newspapers or anything else, I resent it. And that includes allegations of bias when none exists.
A few weeks ago, I talked to a woman who insisted TDP was "leftist," because we had criticized Republican politicians. I explained to her that we criticize all politicians; it's just that most of those who happen to be in office in our sphere of influence at the moment are Republicans. She paused and then blurted out, "You've never said anything good about President Trump." I gently corrected her and offered to send her three links of complimentary editorials we've written about him this year, one of which involved his signing a measure to make animal abuse a felony.
I did that, but took it it a step farther. I looked for all the editorials we've published on Sen. James Lankford, and 13 of the 15 were positive. I also collected opinion pieces we've written on Markwayne Mullin, and nearly half commended him in some way - notably, his attention to the opioid crisis. As for State Sen. Dewayne Pemberton, I couldn't find one critical thing I've written about the man. He has always cooperated with TDP, and although we don't agree with every position he takes, most of his work is commendable.
I sent the links via private message to the woman's Facebook account. I could tell she had seen them. Her response, however, was crickets. Some people can't stand to admit they're wrong. Or perhaps she wanted to ignore me so she could hang onto her own private bigotry about newspapers.
But allegations of bias, all journalists are used to. The hatred aimed our way as of late is a little disturbing - especially when it comes from our own community, because we are part and parcel of that community - and we want the best for everyone in it, including ourselves. But more on that next week.