Sunday, July 12, 2009

Spending ‘generously’ on pictures and staff

The Argus Observes

By Don Lynch

From The Ontario-Argus Observer issue of Oct. 5, 1953

This is one of the most overworked weeks in the year. In addition to being national pharmacy week and national fire prevention week it is national newspaper week.
This week is used each year to remind readers of the importance of public service performed by newspapers and also to remind newspapermen themselves of their responsibilities.

Here is part of a “Journalistic Creed,” voicing ideals that really are taken seriously by virtually all newspapermen (Ed.’s note, and newspaper women who reported for my father, often in key roles but obviously were unconsciously overlooked by him with some frequency):

“I believe that the public journal is a public trust; that all connected with it are, to the full measure of their responsibility, trustees for the public; that acceptance of lesser service than the public service is betrayal of this trust.

“I believe that clear thinking and clear statement, accuracy and fairness, are fundamental to good journalism.

“I believe that a journalist should write only what he holds in his heart to be true.

“I believe that suppression of news, for any consideration other than the welfare of society, is indefensible.

“I believe that no one should write as a journalist what he would not say as a gentleman, that bribery by one’s own pocketbooks is as much to be avoided as bribery the pocketbook of another; that individual responsibility may not be escaped by pleading another’s instructions or another’s dividends.

“I believe that advertising, news and editorial columns should alike serve the best interest of readers; that a single standard of helpful truth and cleanness should prevail for all; that the supreme test of good journalism is the measure of its public service.”

The application of these ideals is more evident in the reporting of national and international news in the daily newspapers; but they do apply in much the same ways to the reporting of community news in a small town newspaper like the Argus-Observer.
I remember little violations of some of these principles that have been painfully embarrassing to me although they have probably gone unnoticed by mores readers. For instance:

Once when we had a new reporter writing the “In Other Days” column of notes from the files of former years, he picked up and retold some embarrassing crime stories long forgotten about local citizens who had since led exemplary lives.
On another occasion an eager reporter was publishing the lurid details of divorce complaints, which should be reported only in barest facts.

These were cruel, pointless stories. The person who had made a mistake and reformed should be granted the balm of public forgetfulness. Divorce items should only report the brief facts, so that the community knows the changing status of the individuals. No good is performed by broadcasting the miserable circumstances.

We spend far more time than readers might imagine just trying to handle the news with understanding and fairness for the individuals involved and at the same time with first consideration for the public interest.

Much of the responsibility of good country journalism likes in a willingness to spend generously of time and effort and money to give the public the best newspaper that can be had from the income available.

Perhaps the most difficult thing in newspaper management lies in establishing the balance tha provides the best paper possible and still retains a safe if modest margin of profit.

For instance, the Argus-Observer probably runs more pictures than any other non-daily newspaper in the Snake River Valley and more local pictures than many small dailies. This costs us the equivalent of half of one employees’ salary, quite a sizeable addition to profit if it were not spent.

But we spend generously for pictures in the belief that it makes a more interesting newspaper.

We get more than enough free handout material to fill the columns of the paper, stuff from government departments, various pressure groups and many manufacturers seeking free publicity.

Instead of using it we choose to use the community news from some 39 local reporters scattered throughout the county. They are modestly paid at best, but the total amount paid them in a year is a sizeable sum. However their report is the “meat” of the Argus-Observer which would be doing a miserable job if it ignored those communities.

We spend more than many papers for reporter time to cover the top government and public news, too, with the conviction that the product is worth the cost.
We spend freely for advertising helps (art) and services for the use of our advertisers and try to give as much attention as possible to the careful preparation of their copy.

Most important of all, everyone of the staff works hard and conscientiously.

I’m proud of our people, of their devotion to the newspaper and of the job they do.

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