Our job is to report facts, not rumorsPublished 7:05pm Friday, April 20, 2012
With the Alexander City elections coming up this summer, things here at the newspaper will likely get heated. It’s the American way, like it or not. People will do and say what they feel they should to get elected, and sometimes that means slinging mud or pointing out problems with other candidates. And it’s the newspaper’s job to report it.
We’ve all heard that old adage “don’t shoot the messenger.” You may not have heard the messenger’s corollary, “After delivery, run.” Community newspapers are “the messenger.” But we’re also much more. And we will not run from our job … a stance that sometimes puts us in harm’s way.
Before we get too deep into the political season, I’d like to try to make it very clear what our role is and how we intend to handle the news, advertising and opinion for the upcoming city elections.
First, I’d like to call your attention to The Outlook’s mission statement, printed on every Opinion page in that column on the right. This newspaper has two different functions which are plainly outlined in the mission statement: “To report the news of our community honestly, fairly and with integrity” and to “Take a leadership role and act as a positive influence in our community.” The first addresses our news stories, the second our opinions.
When we say our mission includes “reporting the news of our community honestly, fairly and with integrity” we’re referring to news stories – what stories we decide to write and how we report them.
It means that it’s our job to be as unbiased, as professional and impartial as possible when writing news stories. We take our job seriously. That’s why many of our stories have a “just the facts, ma’am” quality to them. In a news story, it’s our job to report what we know to be fact, it’s your job to interpret those facts.
Like every aspect of life, however, it’s not all black and white. There are gray areas.
One that causes confusion is when we report other peoples’ opinion. This is slightly confusing. If we report that the president said, “I didn’t do it,” that doesn’t mean that the president is innocent … he may or may not be. What it does mean is that it is a fact that the president made the comment, which is important information for the public to hear. So you may hear opinion in a news story, but you won’t hear the newspaper’s opinion.
That’s for a good reason. This newspaper exists to serve this community – every member of this community. Our advertising customers, those we write about and you, our readers, deserve nothing less.
It’s our job to treat everybody equally and fairly. If you advertise in this newspaper, it’s our job to get your message across to help you get elected. We’ll do our level best to help all our advertisers reach their marketing goals.
If we write a news story about you in this newspaper, it’s our job to get the facts right and report them without bias.
There are times when we know about a story, and many in the community may know about a story, and the story is not published. That’s because we can’t prove the story – no facts, no story. However, when we do have the facts, we will publish it. We’re not in the business of spreading rumor.
The next section of our mission statement says we will “take a leadership role ….” That’s what we do in the Opinion page when we make endorsements or comment on the election and related stories. We work hard to determine what we think is the best course of action, and we share it with the entire community. Immediately following that we say we will “act as a positive influence for our community.” In some cases, that means pointing out problems and things that need to be changed and offering remedies in the hope of ultimately having a positive outcome.
As in previous elections, this year The Outlook and The Record will make local endorsements the last week before the election, once we’ve had a chance to interview all candidates, the events of the campaigns have played out and people have had plenty of time to make their own judgments.
Some people have a hard time understanding the difference between news and opinion. Opinion may or may not be factual. For instance, we can say “We believe John Doe is the best candidate for the job.” While we can list our reasons behind that conclusion, there is no proof that John Doe is the best candidate. It’s not a fact, it’s our opinion. The newspaper’s opinion and the opinions of our writers will only be published on the Opinion page or in clearly labeled opinion/analysis pieces elsewhere in the paper. A column sig or logo that bears the writer’s photo is an indication that a piece includes opinion, such as this column on the Opinion page or J.D. Cowart’s column on the sports page.
Anybody in our community is welcome to write a column or letter to the editor or post a comment on our online forum as long as they follow the rules – profanity, libel and slander are not allowed. Due to space limitations, we ask that letters to the editor be limited to 250 words and guest columns to 500 words. If anybody needs help, our editorial department would be happy to lend a hand with spelling or editing a piece without changing its meaning.
On our online forums, by law Tallapoosa Publishers is not liable for comments made by members of the community. However, we do attempt to delete any posts that contain profanity, libel or slander because we feel that it is the right thing to do.
Above all, our mission statement says we will “treat our readers, our advertisers and our community as we would want to be treated ourselves.” This is the golden rule, which I consider the bottom line in how this company and its employees should act.
We take it seriously, as we do service to our community.
If you have any questions about The Outlook’s policies, please feel free to ask me.
Boone is publisher of The Outlook. He can be reached at 256-234-4281 or firstname.lastname@example.org.