Blessed are the tipsters

Published 3:19 pm Wednesday, September 4, 2019

My daughter recently did a project for school in which she had to interview a family member about their job – the idea being that the children can learn about their family members and what having a job is like and, hopefully, come away with some idea of what might interest them later in life.

I jockeyed for my daughter to interview my sister, who builds prosthetic limbs for a company in Montgomery, or my brother, who manages a steakhouse but, in the end, she chose me – her newsman father whose illusions of grandeur are only dwarfed by the harsh reality of working as a journalist in an age where facts are negotiable.

Thankfully, her questionnaire didn’t take too deep of a dive – sticking largely to the basics, like the tools you use at work each day and the basic functions of your job – so I didn’t have to tackle the more existential questions related to my work, but they crept into my mind all the same.

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“I use a computer and notepads and pens each day,” I told my little girl.

“I talk to people and write down what they say, and I go places and write down what I see and hear, and then I write stories and design newspaper pages,” I responded to her simple questions.

But what can’t be fit into a young girl’s project on her father’s literary occupation, and indeed the very thing that keeps the wheels turning in the news industry, particularly in a locale where information is hoarded like pirate’s booty, is the fact that being a reporter means being a persistent relationship builder and relying upon the secret intel the other half of those relationships can share.

Certainly, this is a slippery slope – gossip is the enemy of fact and a lot of the work requires digging through the one in search of the other – but without reliable people, whose names hardly appear in stories, and the information they provide, even if it is as simple as pointing a fact seeker to the east or west, there would hardly be any news.

As computer systems crumbled in various city offices earlier this week, Selma City Hall stayed mum – the local newspaper received no press release on the issue or the efforts to resolve it; department heads declined comment and pushed questions onto the mayor, who stayed true to course and didn’t respond to requests for comment.

By all accounts, there would not have been an article on the issue in the newspaper that has informed this city for more than 190 years had it not been for a short phone call from a concerned citizen – after that brief conversation, the rest of the day was spent running down information.

This is just the most recent example of the phenomenon – in just shy of one year there have been anonymous phone calls, letters and emails pointing the news hound’s scent toward drug busts, arrests, altercations, injustices, corruption and the like.

Not every tip pans out, but that’s not the job of the tipsters, the town criers, the ears of the city and the mouths of the people – their job is simply to relay what they’ve heard and Selma is a better place for their silent and thankless work.

Surely, blessed are the tipsters, for they are the protectors of democracy and the defenders of truth – their commitment is unparalleled and their contribution invaluable.