Dispatch from a ‘bum reporter’

Published 10:30 am Thursday, January 16, 2020

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During my time as a journalist, I’ve been called many things, most of which are unfit for publication, weathered countless assaults on my credibility and character and received more than a handful of threats from angry readers, but never have I worked in a city where the mayor took to the airwaves to call me a “bum reporter” and demean my work and the work of my colleagues.

But that’s just what happened – according to multiple listeners, Selma Mayor Darrio Melton went on quite a tirade about me and this newspaper in a recent radio broadcast, likely in response to some article or column or editorial we printed that didn’t strike his fancy.

While I don’t listen to the mayor’s radio broadcast, it doesn’t strike me as wholly unfeasible that Melton would launch such an attack –the mayor has never attempted to hide his disdain for this paper, going so far as to call us “fake news” in last year’s “State of the City” address.

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But like so many things in this city, these attacks have no impact on their intended targets and stand only to damage those caught in the crossfire or struck by stray barbs, fragments and debris.

As a journalist, one should expect that people are going to be angry from time to time with your work, especially if that work paints a realistic-but-unflattering portrait, so insults hurled at journalists or their news organizations are akin to tossing sand on the beach – try as you might, there will never be an indication that your efforts amounted to anything.

Contrarily, however, particularly in the case of news writers and agencies, such attacks have unintended consequences for those who launch them and those innocently standing by and bearing witness.

On one hand, an attack on the press is an attack on the truth, an indicator that one opposes both the collection and distribution of the truth, an obvious statement of disdain for facts and those that prepare or digest them – such a subconscious proclamation bodes poorly for any who utilize it.

Even at a time where trust in major news outlets is at an all-time low, most still widely agree that an elected official should be transparent and honest and should be available to the press, which vicariously makes them available to the public, to be properly held to account.

Which brings us to the consequences suffered by constituents when their elected leaders launch an assault on the press and refuse to be held to account by them – while it seems obvious, a refusal to answer to the press is a refusal to answer to the people and a usurpation of their power.

Anyone who has read my work over the past 15 months or so knows that this is not a new topic for me – in a strange way, I am in fact investing in a similarly-fruitless effort by opining on the problem or hoping for its resolution – but the fact remains that the press is on hand to serve the public, just like elected officials, and it is a disservice to that public them hear bloviations on the villainy of the local press and simultaneously be cut-off from access to elected officials.

While no journalist wants to be called a “bum reporter,” we certainly have bigger fish to fry – protecting the reputation of a journalist is inconsequential in the face of all of the other problems this city is facing, though the same could likely be said of belittling a journalist.

So, moving forward, respectfully, let’s go with “bum editor” – it just seems to roll off the tongue a little easier and, since it’s shorter, it won’t take as long to say, which leaves more time to start tackling real issues in the Queen City.