What we expect from ourselves

Published 11:28 pm Friday, March 20, 2009

There is a daily struggle in this business to balance reactivity with proactivity.

What this means in a nutshell to readers is good news vs. bad news.

There are things journalists hear about that we have to jump on — criminal activity, tragedy and scandal.

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Contrary to popular belief, most journalists don’t enjoy nailing wrongdoers to the wall. But between us and law enforcement, there aren’t too many other people willing to take on the task.

Then there’s the good. Once in a while we get a call or an e-mail about someone who has done something extraordinary, something worthy of public attention.

So then I got to thinking …

How do we find balance? Trust me, it’s not something I just thought about three days ago. Several journalists get this lesson during basic reporting classes in college. I say several because it is becoming blindingly clear not every journalism school stresses the importance of throwing a pinch of good news in the same recipe with the negative.

If a news medium is doing its job, it should act as a mirror for the community in which it is based.

So basically, the power lies within the hands of the community.

I began taking a closer look at reactions to our newspaper content, especially comments on our Web site.

I challenge anyone to read back over a period of a week or two, or even a month or more if you have time.

I was a bit shocked by both the amount and depth of comments on stories involving crime, fatalities, the weakening economy and the like. There is almost no shortage of opinions or suggestions about how to either correct the problems or remove the people who are perceived as causing them.

Then I took a look at stories about student achievement, the arts and ordinary people who have done extraordinary things. The disparity is wide by a country mile. Some stories I was sure would have garnered at least a “good job” or “keep it up” got nothing.

It seemed folks couldn’t wait to call us earlier this week regarding the shooting rumor at Wal-Mart. But I can’t tell you how many times I’ve first heard about something positive a week after it happened, quickly followed by, “Why wasn’t anyone from the Selma Times there?”

Every journalist will tell you he or she tries to get it right every time, and if they’re honest they will admit sometimes the mission falls short.

But we also need help. Looking at a newspaper as a separate part of the community rather than an important cog in the wheel hurts those who seek balance in their life.