Speaking Personally

When I print something “negative”
The issue in your hands features something new to us: a Flag Day pullout section. On page three, there is an American flag printed on the full page. I encourage you to keep this flag and display it proudly this week. I hope you tape it up in a window and reflect on what those stars and stripes mean to you. I hope this flag of our great nation inspires and convicts you. 
I have been preparing this section for weeks, and so I’ve been considering our grand old flag for some time already. To me, this flag represents freedom of the press. It displays my right to print whatever I want in these pages. Because of everything that flag means, I get to question or criticize any elected official without fear – from the President of the United States to a Willow Spring City Alderman. It is my privilege guaranteed by the Constitution to shine a light into every corner of local government. Transparency at every level of our governing bodies from school boards and police departments to city councils and county offices is good for us all. 
And yet. 
Twice in the last two weeks, while investigating run-of-the-mill news items, I have been confronted with requests to avoid “anything negative” in my story. At first, I was pretty offended – I was interpreting these requests as an attack my integrity as a journalist. Then, I started to wonder if perhaps these folks had a point. As everyone knows, I’m the one writing most of the news stories in this paper, and I’m also the one with a publisher’s column. Maybe it’s too confusing to share my editorial opinion here and expect readers to separate it from the unbiased news they will find on other pages. 
But I really don’t think that’s it. 
I believe I can trust my readers to recognize the different hats I must wear as the owner and operator of their small-town paper. Everyone can understand that different environments require different behavior from all of us.
When I am in the environment of this opinion page, I can (and will) tell you what I think. On the other pages, these opinions will not appear in my news reporting. 
You know what will? The “negative.” To tell both sides of a story, sometimes unflattering truths must be told. To be fair to all parties, it will sometimes happen that X will not come out smelling like a rose and Y will have made an unpopular decision. 
And here’s the thing—whether we’re in a small town or a city, when a big story happens, we’re all talking about it regardless. We’re forming assumptions and passing judgement in the court of public opinion already. 
My duty as a member of the press is to report from primary or credible sources and from verifiable records. In short, when I report the “negative,” it will never be my opinion. It will be a fact. By shining a light on even the most unpleasant parts of our community, the assumptions and rumor mill can stop. 
It is my mission as a member of the American press to facilitate communication between those in power and the public. If I ever have to interview about a news story, you will have a specific viewpoint. Like a referee, however, I must be fair to all sides. If I don't blow the whistle occasionally, things could get out of hand. 
Without this transparency, democracy will die. 
On this Flag Day, I defend my right to tell the truth, even if it’s “negative.” 
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Howell County News

110 W. Main St.,
Willow Springs, MO 65793

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