Don Rogers: What, wrong view will melt you?
Sometimes I get a call, more often an email. Facebook will light up with comments. Out and about, I’ll hear how the paper has gone too liberal or so, so right-winged.
I have the privilege of being able to join gatherings across the spectrum, to hang out with people who never have to bother having real conversations with dolts who disagree.
Why is the paper infected with those other people’s views anyway? Ridiculous! That’s the gist. Occasionally, I’m schooled in how the paper was great or awful under this or that publisher’s watch, depending entirely on presumed ideology.
I’ve often wondered if the people making such broad, sure pronouncements ever actually read the paper. But then, they say they don’t. Only there they are, commenting in detail on the offending piece. Maybe that’s all they read, which does take some work to find and then digest for critique.
But here’s the thing: There’s no Republican way to cover a fire, no liberal feature on a new restaurant. Crime, events, achievements, human doings, schools, sports, road closures, weather, nearly all of local government — there’s nothing partisan in the meat and potatoes of small-town journalism.
Sure, people have their opinions on what should be done, little of it ideological.
Why, around here a conservative occasionally is spotted picking up litter, helping build a trail, slipping a donation to SYRCL. Even Republicans may lead a quest to help the school district or library with a tax increase. Just don’t tell Grover Norquist.
Even Democrats have turned down the fire department’s earnest measures, expressed dismay at what sort of neighbors might be moving in next door, grumbled at an excess of government regulation.
Some local coverage does raise partisan hackles. Demonstrations, marches, elections. Anything cannabis. Squaw Valley. The Centennial Dam, at least to a degree.
Local coverage almost never is the issue, though. No, the offending piece in the paper seldom is from anyone employed at the paper. Usually, it’s someone in the community participating in that classically American way — with a commentary or letter to the editor.
On this, swaths of people decide forevermore whether the paper is too liberal or too conservative? In The Union one page a day, two on Saturdays, with a column by someone with a liberal view, a column from someone more conservative, most neither? That’s the entirety of the paper to these hanging judges? Really? The Sierra Sun is easier this way, serving a more liberal community.
Editors look sideways at me when I suggest not running opinion pieces about national politics, pro- or anti-Trump specifically. The stories in the paper focus on the community, after all, and there’s plenty going on locally to opine on.
At least push the Trump junk behind all the great pieces on other topics, I suggest. Hang the online traffic stats showing that liberal-conservative boilers are what all these folks who don’t read the paper do in fact read the most. Well, besides the crimes, the crashes, the catastrophes, the scandals and occasionally the local kid done good. Oh yeah, the online era is unblinking about actual habits. We know what you’re reading.
The interest in the local paper for news is squarely local. So much so we’re thinking about dropping The Associated Press in The Union and adding a reporter. We might save a small amount and steer the daily in a definite direction. The wide world the AP feed offers can be found everywhere else, basically. I suspect strongly it wouldn’t be missed, as it’s not at all in the Sun.
Curiously, though, this switches on the Opinion pages. The commentary writers for the Sierra Sun and The Union with one exception — Thomas Elias, focused on state politics — are local, but they’re not exactly containing their opinions to the neighborhood. None of us are.
Among the findings of The Report of The Knight Commission on Trust, Media and Democracy is exactly this: People across the country are growing ever more opinionated about national issues, and not a little inflamed along partisan lines.
It’s kind of weird, frankly: Such demand for local news mixed with judgment of a local paper’s very soul hinging on what participants in the opinion forum contribute.
The real ethic at work, after all, is giving our community’s residents their voice on public issues and events, and not trying to rein it one way or another.
This isn’t easy for me to understand, I confess, as someone who visits echo chambers so that I won’t live in one. I like to read other views, especially when I disagree. That’s where you find real insights, sometimes even epiphanies. And you know, those others? Those dolts? They’re not always wrong.
Don Rogers is the publisher of the Sierra Sun and The Union, based in Grass Valley. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-477-4299.