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The Idle American
"When Breaking News Was Fragile..."
Wednesday, April 23, 2014 • Posted April 23, 2014

The lesson, hammered by countless journalism teachers for century(s), was intended to be cattle-branded into minds of aspiring writers who would go forth to inform readers about what’s going on in the world. And it was emphasized that “getting it right” was preferable to “getting it first.”

In recent years, of course, so many new ways to “get it first” hog the spotlight, with accuracy often languishing somewhere in the shadows.

When our teacher’s voice ramped up to bold face emphasis, we knew a test-worthy admonition followed. “When a person dies, for goodness’ sake, spell the name right. It may be the third and last time it will appear in print.” (The other two times, for those still reading, referenced birth and marriage.)…

    *****

Her eyes would cross, were she alive today, upon learning that names may appear in print gazillions of times, if one counts social media. Never mind they often are misspelled at best, and perhaps wrong on both first and last names at worst.

She’d be dizzy, too, about news dissemination—instantaneous here, there and everywhere.

Oh, she’d adapt, just as she did during days as a society page editor for a regional West Texas newspaper. During her tenure, the newspaper started noting births--as well as marriages--of minority group members. (A few years earlier, newspapers “plowed new ground,” in reporting the deaths of such folks, but that’s another story.)…

    *****

Providing evidence that progress has been made in social justice, an oft-quoted comment comes to mind. I’m not sure who first said it. It’s worthy of consideration by every generation.

“We ain’t what we want to be. We ain’t what we ought to be. But, thank God, we ain’t what we used to be.”

Such reminds me of college years when I edited a country weekly newspaper during summers. I was editor/reporter/folder/ad guy/driver, uh, with “certain other duties as may be assigned by the publisher.” (The word “folder” meant literally folding the newspapers--all 500 of them-- and getting them to the post office on time. All this for minimum wage of a buck an hour, a figure my dad thought might have been excessive.)…

    *****

With a 5 p.m. Tuesday deadline, I prayed hard that no one would die that day, at least no one prominent in the community. If one did, I was in luck—I thought—if he were out of town. At such times, photographs did not accompany obituaries.

Running “pics” was a hassle. It meant driving 10 miles to Brownwood, standing in line at the daily Bulletin’s engraving machine and forking over $5—a process that blew a minimum of four hours—on “press day” yet.

But if the publisher happened to be present, he’d insist on running a photo, whether or not he had the five dollars or I could spare the four hours. I learned much from this community leader who regarded signing a check as a promise to pay, sometimes sooner, often later. Yet, he was the most generous person I’ve ever known, giving everyone their due….

    *****

Today, we are all in the “news business” if we choose to be. And traditional media are adapting, hopefully without forgetting the importance of “getting it right.”

Should we break the news to young folk that tweets and posts have been around for close to a century? In newspapers, they are called “personals” by editors and “fillers” by ink-stained folks in the back shop—the ones minding “p’s,” “q’s” and all the other letters.

“Hard news”--then and now-- can be extremely fragile. Like all the letters, it must be handled with care, all the way to publication….

    *****

“Selfies,” a word I couldn’t define until recent weeks, can be beneficial. People of all generations crave significance; many think they’ve “arrived” when pictured with others believed to “have it made.”

So, there now are lots of opportunities for people to have “brief and shining moments” to help them feel better about themselves. My small-tyke grandniece was photographed the other day with a couple of leading Duck Dynasty figures. To her, and others following their TV adventures, this was a very big deal.

Everyone matters. I’m glad late publisher Forrest Kyle taught me that a long time ago….

    *****

Dr. Newbury is a speaker in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. Speaking inquiries/comments to: newbury@speakerdoc.com. Phone: 817-447-3872. Website: www.speakerdoc.com. Twitter: @donnewbury.

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