I remember the day like it was yesterday. Anyone who knows me knows how crazy that is.
Saturday afternoon. I was in the newsroom for some reason. I might have been putting together pages. I might have been finishing a story. Whatever the reason, I was there when the publisher walked into the editor’s office and told him what our Sunday editorial was to be — an endorsement in a state senate race.
Both the editor and I, the newspaper’s political writer, had told both candidates in that race, and many others, that the newspaper’s policy did not allow endorsing a candidate.
Shortly afterward, I called the candidate who didn’t get the endorsement and told him what our editorial would say.
He won and held a grudge. I didn’t blame him. Took me a year to get him to finally talk to us again on the record.
That was my first hard lesson in the business of journalism. It wouldn’t be my last.
Over the years, as I worked my way up the ladder, I saw more and more how the business end affected the printed product.
Perfect example: Scandalous story about cheerleaders’ pictures appearing on a website. No nudity, but the girls were scantily clad while at a camp. We got wind of the story and the photos and were going to do a story but, obviously, not publish any of the photos.
Someone from the school district needed to call the editor of the newspaper and plead the case to not publish the story. Who called? Multiple choice:
A. School board president.
C. Cheerleader sponsor.
D. Transportation director.
If you guessed transportation director, you’re right. The conversation started like this:
(Transportation director to editor, who happened to be a junior enlisted soldier in the transportation director’s National Guard company): “Rick, this is 1st Sgt. …”
We still ran the story.
Such pressure only gets worse if one gets “lucky” enough to become a publisher. Now, you not only have the social pressure to not publish certain stories, you have the business pressure.
Business owner beats up his wife. Print the story and lose all the guy’s business. No brainer, obviously.
But what about going back and analyze whether the chamber of commerce and city made a good deal by giving away the farm to a company coming to town when the employees don’t buy homes in the community and don’t shop in the local outlets? How popular a story would that be?
Is there a point to all this rambling? You betcha, as our Russian-visioning former Alaska governor would say.
The tagline at the end of this column says that I’m an “independent” journalist. What that means is I don’t work for anybody. I don’t have to make a budget. I don’t have to keep happy any constituency. Read this piece. Don’t read it. Makes me no difference. I’m just thankful to the Arkansas News Bureau and this newspaper for providing me a platform to share my opinions about whatever might be weaving its way through my addled mind on any given day.
News consumers need to understand that the news they get usually comes through several filters. Knowing what those filters are and who decides what those filters are keys to understanding how much credence to give to any given news report. Most news organizations are fair.
As far as commentary goes, you’re on your own there. Of course, it should be easy enough to figure out who comes from a conservative viewpoint and who comes from a liberal perspective. I’ll make an editorial comment of my own — there aren’t nearly as many liberal writers in Arkansas or anywhere else as most folks would have you believe.
Me? I’m independent.
Rick Fahr is an independent journalist in Arkansas who most recently was editor and publisher of the Log Cabin Democrat in Conway. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.