Good or bad, news is news

Published 10:40 am Friday, November 22, 2019

There’s a continual refrain in Selma as it relates to publishing the news that contends that this newspaper prints too much negative information and should make a concerted effort to print good news and avoid those stories that paint a bleak picture of the city.

To be fair, those who peddle such a narrative are only doing so with the best interests of the city at heart, believing that bad news lowers the morale of citizens and scares away would-be business partners, but they fail to appreciate the fact that glossing over the city’s failures and missteps in the local newspaper would be a disservice to citizens and, indeed, only lead to more failures and missteps.

There are two quotes that speak directly to this assertion, both the value of bad news and the failure of a press that avoids printing such news, which illustrate brilliantly the necessity of bad news.

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Author and journalist George Orwell, best known for his books Animal Farm and 1984, both of which should be read by any person that has so far avoided cracking the books, said the following: “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”

The second is an unattributed quote that sat in a frame on the desk of Chicago Herald and Examiner Day City Editor L.E. Edwardson in the early 1900s, which said the following: “Whatever a patron desires to get published is advertising; whatever he wants to keep out of the paper is news.”

Imagine going to the doctor and, rather than telling you that your body is riddled with cancer and you only have six months to live, the doctor praises you for the amount of weight you’ve lost and your stable blood pressure numbers – such a doctor would be negligent in his duties and would indeed be considered an awful practitioner of medicine.

In much the same way, it is the newspaper’s job to give you the news – good, bad or otherwise – and if it skirts past those stories that cause indigestion, or ignores instances of dysfunction or corruption in favor of stories that paint a pleasant-but-inaccurate picture of the town and people the press is meant to serve, then it is an awful practitioner of journalism and unfit for the people’s gaze.

In much the same way that a doctor takes no joy in handing down a devastating prognosis, so too does the local newspaper take no joy in writing or publishing those stories that dishearten the local readership or defame the city’s reputation, but our job is to print the news and pass no judgment on the type of information being disseminated.

In fact, this writer would argue that there is no such thing as bad news – there is only news, which Merriam-Webster defines as “a report of recent events” or “previously unknown information.”

Sure, nothing would be better than printing stories about a place where no one goes hungry, everybody has a job and a police force is unnecessary because crime does not exist, but such places are reserved for the pages of fantasy novels – the news, by contrast, lives in, reports on and is shaped by reality.

Even those who contend otherwise would not want us to escape from that realm, or shirk from our responsibility of covering the news as accurately and objectively as possible, regardless of its implications, because doing so would lull the people into a false sense of contentedness and eliminate any possibility that those ills that plague us on a daily basis, and as a result show up on the front page of the paper, will ever be effectively and honestly resolved.