Across the Universe: When talking ethics, ‘let it be’ now and then
Being a newspaper editor in a small-town environment, the line of ethics can be a bit grayer than those that border large cities.
Heck, half the sources I talk are those who I’ll meet for a beer at a local business or shop next to at the grocery store, and I get my fair share of praise and criticism when simply trying to check my mail at the post office.
It also breeds situations where I might have to write about friends or acquaintances — it’s part of what a small town is all about, I suppose.
In Friday’s paper, I wrote a news story in our Health & Wellness section, Page 7, about North Shore resident (since 1971) Bob Campbell, who’s had a hard year of extended hospital visits and growing medical bills, which figure to worsen after he broke vertebrae, his tail bone and ribs in a skiing accident last week.
The story’s been quite popular online and on social media, and no doubt it’s helped in efforts to raise donations to assist with Bob’s medical bills.
So, it’s with that that I utter the following disclaimer — the very appropriately newsworthy story of a longtime resident and business owner is of the father of a friend of mine. I wrote the story, and indeed I did interview his daughter.
Perhaps some may frown on the practice, but considering the tough year Bob’s had, I had absolutely zero issues “crossing” that ethical line. As I’ve often said in this space, there are certain “duties we have as a newspaper,” one of which is telling stories of our neighbors in need.
Interestingly, not long after this story published, longtime Tahoe freelance writer Tim Hauserman, who writes great human-interest pieces for us and other regional publications, shared with me his thoughts on the ethics of it all: “I think the personal part of the story is what makes writing in a small town so special and important. I heard tell that the Tahoe World back in the day was mostly written at the Pop’s Corner Bar at the Tahoe Inn.”
While I can’t relate to Tim’s history-rich anecdote, since I’ve only lived on the North Shore of Tahoe since 2007, I couldn’t agree more with his comments on importance of “the personal part of the story.”
And as I told someone the next day, while it felt good personally to help a friend, it was also a pleasure to write the story because it’s part of what we do as journalists that brings a ton of value to our jobs — telling stories like Bob’s will hopefully allow others in need to not be anxious or scared about reaching out to us for help.
Of course, depending on staff time and other variables, we may have to do things differently, or not at all.
But we will listen, so please, don’t hesitate to reach out to me with an idea of lending a helping hand.
WHAT’S IN A NAME?
On a somewhat unrelated note, ever since I started writing weekly opinion columns in early 2013, I’ve titled them “Editor’s Column.”
So this week, I thought awhile about a name change to give it some identity (after all, we have “Weather Window,” “Law Review,” Market Beat,” etc.), and after asking the world of Facebook to chime in, I decided against all the hilarious suggestions and instead settled on “Across the Universe.”
First, I should note that my friend Ryan Taylor, of Truckee — a fantastically talented musician who plays keys in the Mark Sexton Band — laughingly offered up “Chillin’ with MacMillan” as an option, which I did consider for a few.
That, and “K-Mac and Cheese” from an old college friend.
But I chose “Across the Universe” as an ode to my favorite music group of all time, The Beatles, and the song of the same name.
John Lennon is a hero of mine, so it’s also in honor of his spirit and the general “make love, not war” approach he had to life, which I wholeheartedly endorse.
And perhaps in no other of Lennon’s songs (with the Beatles) did that mantra shine through than “Universe,” which is anchored both by the Sanskrit-inspired lyric, “Jai guru deva … om,” and, “nothing’s gonna change my world.”
It’s probably Lennon’s greatest poem, too, so in my mind, there’s no better person by which to draw literal — and humanistic — inspiration.
Kevin MacMillan is managing editor of the Sierra Sun and North Lake Tahoe Bonanza. Reach him for comment at email@example.com.
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