WHAT WE AS JOURNALISTS ARE ALL ABOUT
[from December 2000 issue]

PRIOR EDITORIALS ARCHIVED HERE


It has recently become apparent to us that there are readers of this newspaper who really do not comprehend what the proper role of a journalist should be. They seem to believe that it is our responsibility to report only stories that bolster their particular viewpoints or that do not make waves in the community served by the newspaper.

This, we contend, is not our role--at least not in this country where our Founding Fathers believed so strongly that a vigorous and free press was crucial to protecting the rights of its citizens. It is for that reason that the press is accorded special considerations under our Constitution.

Accordingly, we have conducted the operation of this newspaper for the past 17 years guided by a single, overriding principle: That we will report the news that concerns--or ought to concern--our readers whether or not some individuals or organizations or government bureaucrats think we should not do so because they may be called to account for their actions.

Leaders of one neighborhood group, for example, have apparently been so badly distressed that we have carried a number of news stories over time chronicling their involvement in one the city's most high-profile liquor license controversies that they would like to see us retire. In fact, they are even putting out the word that our company is for sale! Note to advertisers: That's pure bunkum!--Don't even believe it for a New York minute!

Obviously, we have struck a raw nerve. But their behavior actually validates our reporting; we have reported the news and the truth hurts. Sorry, folks, but if we omitted any spin that you might have put on any of our reports, you never availed yourselves of the myriad opportunities accorded to you each time we sought you out.

For example, back in the early summer our reporter made every effort to interview the president of the association that was a key player in the story being prepared for publication, yet, as we reported at the time, we were unsuccessful for the reason "that he did not have the time available for a short telephone interview." Well, that is not our problem; seems to us that it is a problem for the organization that entrusts its leadership to someone who doesn't have time to perform tasks that come with the territory.

Again, in our most recent news report this same association leader absolutely refused to return our reporter's calls--and three separate telephone message requests were left. He cannot, therefore, claim that the article we published did not accurately reflect his organization's views. Nor can he criticize if we got any facts about his group wrong if he refused to make himself available to us to ensure that no errors in reporting would be made.

Having said this, we need to stress that we have yet to receive any credible claims of reporting errors. The fact is that our reporting has been accurate through and through.

We know, of course, that if people state some off-the-wall notions loud enough and long enough others may begin to believe they are true; in fact, the people making the claims may begin to actually believe also. But that doesn't make something factual.

For example, at the October membership meeting of the Dupont Circle Citizens Association someone stood up an announced that a few days prior, in a telephone call to the publisher of this newspaper, he had been informed that we had a "vendetta" against the DCCA, thus explaining why we had run some anti-DCCA ads. That public statement was an incredible fabrication. Never was such a thing said, and never would such a thing ever be said. We can only surmise that this was stated for the purpose of attempting to discredit our news reporting standards.

The decision to run advocacy advertising is not made on the basis of whether or not we agree with the message contained therein; it is based on whether the advertiser can pay the bill. It may come as a surprise to many people, but this is a business enterprise which needs to make money so that its owners and contractors and vendors can be paid.

There was never any restriction imposed upon the DCCA from running ads in our newspaper countering messages from others with whom they did not agree; in fact, DCCA ran one such ad of that very sort with us--the same ad they placed in other newspapers.

We do not and will not censor the content of paid advertising, any more than we will refuse to run letters to the editor that take us to task for some imagined slight or letters that rail against something that might be dear to our hearts. To do less would be to diminish the whole philosophy of the sanctity of a free press. Let the unpopular news reports and unpopular views flourish--we are a better citizenry for it!