En route into Washington, D.C., two weeks ago, I stopped to see an old friend and more recently an author of mine, Frank Joseph, at his home in Bethesda, Maryland. Frank and I first met at the Associated Press bureau in Chicago, where we both were new hires.
It never takes long for us to pivot to journalism as Topic A.
“What I keep hoping for,” Frank told me, “is for Americans to become intelligent consumers of the news, to be critical readers.” I agreed that such would be ideal but said with pessimism: “That’s a lot to hope for.”
From Chicago, Frank went on to D.C. to become an editor at the Washington Post. I went on to New York for a brief stint on the AP foreign desk, editing news from around the globe, and then “across the pond” to work as a correspondent in AP’s Rome bureau.
Somehow we reconnected when Frank found out I’d become a regional book publisher based in Huntington and he had a novel he wanted to publish. That novel was “To Love Mercy,” a story of boyhood racial tensions — and happy resolutions — set on Chicago’s South Side. A terrific book, which won seven national awards in fiction.
I had brought Frank about eight boxes of his book from our clearing out of Publishers Place inventory on 4th Avenue. The book has done well as a young adult reader in urban schools, and Frank hoped he could keep the book rolling in those venues.
Back to journalism: With local newspapers dwindling in page count and going up in newsstand and subscription prices, what can be done to attract readers and to “hit them where they live”? And, as Frank opines, to make them discerning consumers of news?
As I recall, neither Frank nor I had any immediate answers. I’ve thought about it since, however, and hope I may have a worthwhile note or two to share.
The honest brokers among news media people are bent on digging out the facts of any given event or trend and putting on the air or in print only what they can “back up” — show evidence that the report is factual (not at all “made up” or distorted). The dishonest brokers will “spin the news” and tilt the story toward their own preferred political preference. Up to you, the reader or viewer, to pay attention and decide whom you can trust. And whom you cannot.
Getting local, I’ve heard The Herald-Dispatch referred to by various area residents as “a right-wing rag” and also as “a left-wing rag.” That a good sign that the paper is striving for balance. Some may rail that “Aw, those columnists all hate Trump.” On balance, the claim may have merit, but only because so many longtime conservative columnists, such as George Will, Kathleen Parker and Michael Barone, have decided that they cannot abide a Republican who is so dismissive of facts but feels free to “wing it.” Or, worse, issue statements that are demonstrably untrue.
The H-D, in my estimation, has an outstanding business reporter in Fred Pace, and a number of conscientious reporters covering other beats and turning in accurate, well-written pieces. Courtney Hessler’s coverage of the pharmaceutical trial has been impressive.
Please call the paper out for screw-ups. But do appreciate the many things The H-D does well.