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EDITORIAL: What’s a small town newspaper for?
Whew. Dealing with the controversies around the swimming pool issue has been taxing for all parties involved. At times it’s gotten nasty and feelings have been hurt. At such moments, it’s probably inevitable that those involved--reporters and editors, elected officials and city staff--stop and think ‘why am I even bothering to deal with this crap?’
Well, here’s why we at the Telegraph bother.
The role of small town newspaper is a tough part to play, but the press have a very specific and crucial function in any democracy, and it’s twofold. First, we are here to report the facts of public life as accurately as we can. Second, we have a duty to scrutinize the decisions of those elected or hired to make decisions that affect the common good.
The first part of this duty is called reporting, and the second is called editorializing.
It’s possible for a newspaper to fail to be a proper newspaper in two ways:
1. By failing to report the news (turning a blind eye) or by reporting only one side of a story.
While we here at the Telegraph can’t claim to be perfect, I think that, if you read the current week’s stories you will see that we’re making the best effort we can to show all sides of a very important and complicated story. As even the mayor will acknowledge, there have been publications in Rossland’s past that refused to air all sides of an issue. In the present case, lead reporter Andrew Bennett has worn himself ragged trying to get the involved parties to speak up. Ironic, eh?
We could also have ignored the pool issue, perhaps hoping to avoid disrupting personal relationships with the principals (always tough in a small town) or to avoid annoying our advertisers, including City Hall. What if, for example, City Hall or another advertiser, displeased with our approach, was to punish or seek to control us by withdrawing their advertising? It’s worth noting that, in this respect, we’re lucky to be an online-only publication. The lion’s share of city advertising goes to print thanks to ancient laws that refer to ‘print’. Consequently, we’ve always done without much financial support from the city. When I first moved to Rossland, there was an independent print paper that annoyed the council and staff of the day (none of whom remain today...). According to the editor, the city pulled its ads and the paper went belly up a week later, thanks to the higher overheads of producing newsprint. Our view has always been that we need to do what we need to do first and worry about the money later.
2. By failing to offer our own perspectives on what is going on.
Editorial and comment pieces are essential to the provision of news as such writing provides the sort of scrutiny that all people in power need. Such pieces are often called ‘biased’. Well, of course they are--they’re opinion pieces, for goodness sake! What’s crucial here is that all valid views be allowed equal air time to those of reporters and editors. I can proudly say that the Telegraph has NEVER refused to run a letter or OpEd piece by any of its readers. Neither have we ever removed a comment from our site unless it was libellous. Again, quite the opposite: we spend an inordinate portion of our time trying to make reluctant Rosslanders speak up for themselves. Again, digging into history, there have been publications that flat out refused to print the views of people who disagreed with the editor of the day. In what’s typically been a one-newspaper town, that’s a damaging and disgraceful thing.
The Telegraph stared in the wake of all the hostility and confusion around the Red Mountain golf course proposal four years ago with the specific aim of clearing the air and supporting open discourse in the Mountain Kingdom. Our view has always been that more information is always better--and that an informed population will make good choices when they vote at the same time that politicians and bureaucrats who know they are being watched will work hard to be transparent and above-board.
Moving forward from recent controversies, we can only hope that the new council will respect their roles and the public--and that everyone at City Hall will view requests for explanations as opportunities to achieve clarity--and not as attacks or ‘impudence’.
What’s key here isn’t politicians, city employees, or newspeople, but the common public good. And that’s one thing we should all share.