By Sunny Lockwood
As a daily newspaper reporter, I’m wearied by the constant barbs leveled at me and my colleagues.
When radio personalities diss all reporters as "liberals" who purposely slant their stories, it irritates. When local politicians claim they’re routinely misquoted, it annoys. But what really hurts is the knowledge that millions believe such foolishness.
The implication that reporters march lock-step to the same beat and always try to make those they’re covering look bad is flat out wrong.
According to the American Society of Newspaper Editors, at last count (April 2009) there were more than 45,000 employees in the newsrooms of America. Many of them are reporters and believe me, we do not all hold the same opinion about anything.
Our personal views vary widely on politics, education, the economy, religion, marriage and the family, what makes a good movie or a good meal.
Reporters are not all liberals or all conservatives or all obnoxiously pushy or all pushovers.
Most of us are, among other things, curious, eager to understand what’s happening and why. We love words and we love stories and we want our stories to serve you, the reader, giving you a clearer understanding of what we’re covering.
We work long, irregular hours including weekends, nights, and sometimes, into the first-light hours of the morning to bring accurate information to you, our reader.
And we do it all under the constant pressure of an unforgiving deadline.
What other job requires a person to write a finished report (or two) every day? We often get the story assignment upon arriving at work. We then have to research, talk to people on all sides of the issue, organize and write the story, double-check facts, polish the story and turn it in.
Most other jobs allow a little leeway. If you don’t get the report finished today, you can complete it tomorrow.
Not so for reporters’ stories. Deadlines must be met because the paper has to be in readers’ hands every day. No excuses.
Obviously, some stories take more than a day to write, but reporters must keep the daily stories coming even while working on longer, more involved articles.
And, should our story contain an error, it is announced and corrected on page one or two within a day or so.
What other job do you know where errors are publicly announced and corrected as soon as possible?
Most people (and companies) try to hide or excuse mistakes. Not reporters. We own up.
We’re also the people who sit through often boring meetings to keep you informed on what your public servants are doing, what they’re planning and how they’re spending your money, so that you can take action if needed.
We’re the people who keep asking the difficult questions of local, state and national officials in education, law enforcement, government and business until we get the answers so that you can know.
We’re the people who often chase down rumors you have called us about, e-mailed us about, written us about, trying to get the facts so that you can know the truth.
Being a daily newspaper reporter requires the energy of an athletic teenager, the poise of a beauty queen, the listening skills of a good therapist, the persistence of a puppy and the organizational abilities of an executive secretary.
I came to reporting late in life – well into my 50s.
By my age, most reporters have become editors or columnists, letting those younger chase the stories and keep the copy flowing.
But after a career in university publications, I’d moved to an unfamiliar county, and thought reporting would be both educational and a quick introduction to the area.
Most of the reporters I work with are young enough to be my children. Yet they are professional and work at doing the best job possible.
Admittedly, there are some unethical reporters. But they are so rare, that their misbehavior makes front-page news.
After five years of writing about wildfires, floods, car wrecks, death, births, government actions and reactions, admirable community leaders and scoundrels, courageous neighbors, creative students and a crank or two, I realize this often-criticized job is vital to American life.
Journalism is an honorable part of the checks and balances of our democracy.
But we reporters do more than guard the public interest, more than record what’s wrong with the world. We also report on what’s right.
We search out unsung local heroes and shine the spotlight on them so all can see the kind of folks who make us proud to be Americans.
We reveal the heart of our society in stories about courage as well as cowardice, generosity as well as greed. As daily scribes of society, we do our best to capture real life as it happens, connecting readers not only with the events but also with the hearts and lives behind them.
Through wedding and anniversary coverage, obituaries and other local stories, we connect readers to each other.
We write the stories even when they’re hard to write, even when they slice our souls like paper cuts slice our fingers, even when they bruise our hearts and make us cry.
Although TV, radio and the net provide news, they often use our work for their stories, building on what we have written or reported. And, unlike TV, radio and the net, you can actually contact a newspaper reporter by phone or email or snail mail. I’ve even had readers come by in person to talk with me about a story.
Despite the critics, we reporters keep writing, doing our best to give you an accurate picture of life each day, revealing the world’s gritty or vibrant pulse.
As you read our work, please remember the honest labor we put into our sentences and paragraphs, trying to bring you the most accurate story possible, and ignore the shrill criticism from those with a political or personal ax to grind.
For six years, Sunny Lockwood covered education and government beats for The Union Democrat, a Monday through Friday daily newspaper serving Calaveras and Tuolumne counties in California’s Mother Lode. The Democrat has been publishing daily since 1854.