Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Isn't there a name for something like this?

Sometimes, like many other people, I lose focus in life. I inch away from the things that give me purpose until I'm eventually a mile away and wondering how that happened. And that's if I even notice, which isn't a given.

Then this happens. And I am born anew.

I hope one day to get a chance to write something that awesome. The Frederick News-Post has done as good a job as anyone in exploring the misunderstanding that many people have of the media's role. And they did it with the perfect mix of snark, sarcasm and seriousness. No wonder it's gone viral. (Read the first letter of each paragraph to see exactly how well-crafted the editorial is.)

A decade ago, I covered a council meeting where a citizen spoke extensively about an item the body was considering. He was an expert on the matter and had some usable quotes. But I hadn't caught his full name. So after he sat down, I walked over to him and asked him to verify his name. He whispered back, "My comments were off the record" and waved me off. I was so stunned that I couldn't bring myself to inform him that his comments were, in fact, the definition of the record. Since he wouldn't share his name (and because none of the other journalists knew it), I couldn't quote him anyway, so I left it at that. I consider it a missed opportunity, though I don't doubt he eventually learned it the hard way.

Along with Kirby Delauter, that man illustrates how the public can (sometimes profoundly) misunderstand what the media is and how it works. It isn't an all-powerful monolith out to push a unified agenda (though there are exceptions). It isn't in the business of sweeping facts under the rug because you ask nicely (or not so nicely). When others see fit to look away, it takes a look, because that is its job. Public events are always fair game, something everyone should know, let alone a council member.

Perhaps journalists should work harder to inform the public, not just about its standards, but as to why those standards are necessary.

In trying so hard to keep his name out of the press, Kirby Delauter introduced himself to an entire nation, and ironically demonstrated the power (and purpose) of the press. And there was much rejoicing.

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