JIM CREES: Journalists — ‘We are scribes’

In recently published column by columnist and commentator Tim Skubick, Brother Tim wrote that all was not well for news reporters and journalists.

Basically speaking, Skubick pointed out the profession was changing, the job description was morphing and previously normal expectations were being revisited by a very demanding public.

It’s all true.

The job of being a writer at a newspaper has changed considerably since I started out in the business. Tremendously.

Even when I began working with the Pioneer a couple decades back, things were way, Way, WAY different.

But don’t get me wrong, I am NOT being nostalgic. I firmly believe the news business is better today than it was back then. Conditions are better in the newsroom and the technology available for both research and production is light-years improved.

And … wait for it … wait for it …

The young people coming into the profession today are sharper, more creative, better trained and more driven than I have seen in a long, long time.

They’re good. Very good.

What certainly has changed are the expectations and demands of the reading public.

Let me begin with a allegorical tale. One of my best friends (and the best man at my wedding) was a professor at an evangelical theology school out east. (He is now the chancellor of the same seminary.)

We were discussing our individual professions and the trials and tribulations of those entering into our respective fields of work.

He told me that in preparing students for a preaching ministry he taught that they had 20 minutes to get an actual sermon idea across to the folks in the pews.

Twenty minutes — a snappy opener, a meaningful message and an entertaining closer in 20 minutes.

Twenty minutes, he explained, is the attention span of the average American.

I asked him on what the 20-minute attention span theory was based, and he replied, “Twenty minutes is the length of the average sitcom on American TV — less the commercials.”

Ouch.

Time and space have always been problems in the newspaper business. And holding people’s attention.

Writers in the news trade must get often incredibly complex stories trimmed down to 500-700 words while still conveying the importance of the issue at hand.

All the while, they must remain neutral while covering happenings of the day that are sometimes shocking and discomforting … to say the least.

Newspaper people in local markets such as Big Rapids, Reed City and Evart also must be magicians and localize almost everything they write. If they don’t, the folks in Mecosta County complain about the amount of news from Osceola County, and vice versa.

(I once had a reader complain that we ran the Reed City obituaries before the Evart obituaries!)

We regularly receive complaints that there isn’t enough coverage of events and news in one area or the other, but when we call for information about a festival or happening, we can’t find anyone willing to talk.

When there is a more unfortunate news event that demands coverage, people in a given community are up in arms about our very presence.

I was once punched while taking a photo of a barn fire.

When township or municipal officials violate the Open Meetings Act or refuse Freedom of Information Act requests and we report on it, people start withholding advertising business with the paper or cancel their subscriptions.

Why?

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I implore you.

It is not WE who broke the rules, violated the law and the public trust, or overstepped our authority. We simply report on it.

I am constantly telling the young people entering this profession, “We are scribes.” We are nothing more than chroniclers.

We tell the story of what YOU do.

Sorry.

Look. Odds are, if you or your kids behave themselves, they won’t show up on the police blotter in our paper.

If you do something good for the community, we’ll be glad to run that story front and center.

Dear reader, you need to know this simple fact of life: We report on the affairs of the day, both good and bad.

If you want to be in the historical record that newspapers inevitably become as a good person, do something good and we’ll be glad to give you your day in the sun.

If you, however, decide to be an abuser, a deadbeat or you find it absolutely impossible to control your zipper, you will be in the newspaper as such a person for posterity.

It’s not about us.

We just report the news.

It’s all about you. You create the news.

So don’t tell us, “We don’t want you here …” when you or people in your community screw up.

We’re going to be there anyway. Whether you like us or not.

That is our profession.

Scribes.

 

Jim Crees is the editor-in-chief of the Big Rapids Pioneer. He can be reached at jcrees@pioneergroup.com.

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