Newspapers are valuable because they tell you what’s
happened, what’s likely to happen and what you can do about it. They contain information
that is important, interesting, relevant, thought-provoking and/or emotion-evoking.
But all the content and presentation and timeliness are
meaningless without one thing: Credibility.
When all is said and done, credibility is their only stock-in-trade.
Without it, nothing else matters.
I tried to explain this the other day to someone who took
issue with a story in The Saratogian that portrayed him in an unflattering
light. He said part of it was inaccurate, but the part he challenged was pretty
much word for word what was on the police report, to whom the information was
Then he said if we didn’t change the story he would pull his
You’re kidding, right? I thought that, but didn’t say it.
What I said was, we wouldn’t want to publish inaccurate
information and we also wouldn’t want the news dictated by advertisers and surely
he would agree.
No, he didn’t.
His contention was, in a nutshell, that businesses support
the newspaper by advertising and the newspaper in turn should support the
advertisers by letting them decide whether something ought to be published.
No can do.
Once in a while, someone will call me, sometimes someone I
know and sometimes not, sheepishly asking whether a news item, usually one on
the police blotter, can be overlooked. Usually they are asking on someone else’s
behalf; sometimes on their own. And usually they already know the answer.
I feel bad for basically decent people and their families
who are embarrassed or hurt by things that are published. I am uncomfortable and
sad when they are people I happen to know, or when the people seem to have
enough problems. This is a small city.
But it doesn’t matter whether you’re the smallest advertiser
or the biggest, or a friend of the publisher or the relative of an employee. No
special treatment. It’s not about selling papers or getting page views. It’s
about consistency, fairness and credibility.