30 April 2009

The Last Day

It is my last day at The Greeley Tribune.


I have edited, rewritten, designed, fixed, written, and researched.
I can use Quark, NewsEdit, and Photoshop quite easily.
I have laughed at the sports guys, the silly citizen commentators, and the Greality page.
I've listened to complaints from all sides of the spectrum, joined in on a few of them, and rolled my eyes at others.

But most of all, what I think I'll carry the furthest from this experience is how much power a group of seven people had over what kind of news an entire community received. It actually scared me a couple of times, when I was editing a story for length, how whatever I cut out could make all the difference in the world as to the feeling people had in their stomachs after they read the article. Sick? Butterflies? Excitement? Satisfaction?

Editors have power, more power (sometimes) than the writers themselves. When the story is on the page and you have three lines of space and ten lines of text, you can only squish the letters together so far. Sometimes you have to chop out an entire sentence, or two halves of different sentences. Do you leave in the context, or take it out, and hope that the quote stands on its own? If one side of the issue shows optimistic and pessimistic views, which one do you leave in? So many images are based on what people read in the paper, or what they think they read in the paper.

This is why I'm starting to think that online newspapers are a great idea. You don't have to cut down for space when you have a virtual abyss to fill with words. These value judgments won't be left to people who have no problem simply cutting out the last half of the story, ignoring the fact that the best view of the other side of the issue is in that half.

Taped to the monitor of the copy desk chief's computer is a list of questions that you can ask yourself to ensure that you make good ethical decisions. Here are a few of them:

1. What do I know? What do I need to know?
...4. What organizational policies and professional guidelines should I consider?
...6. Who are the stakeholders -- those affected by my decision? What are their motivations? Which are legitimate?
...9. What are my alternatives to maximize my truthtelling responsibility and minimize harm?

The list is numbered to ten, though you can see that several numbers have multiple questions. How many editors have something like this right in front of their eyes, always reminding them to be balanced? Very few, from what I've noticed.

Maybe we should stop gasping when politicians actually speak their minds (thank you, Joe Biden) and just write it all down. Don't try to cover leaders' tracks. Let it sit out there and stew, and then perhaps the public will be best-informed, not just well-informed.

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