There's something important about a byline. It's not about credit, and it's not about notarity, but it's important. It's about accountability. It's about credibility.
I think it was probably put best during a recent newsroom discussion. We don't deal in information. That's not our newspaper's commodity. We deal in credible information. When I write that the cables were taut on the crane lifting the ditched semi at 4:42p.m. Thursday, you can bet I was on the scene, checked the time and wrote it down in my notebook. When I write that Polaris saw a net income of $56 million the first quarter of this year, you can bet I printed all eight pages of said report and read them. And when I wrote that a local girl said her experience performing on Broadway was the most intense thing she's ever done, you can bet I talked to her well before ink hit paper. And you can put your money down on any of the folks whose name appears at the top of a story in this paper.
So, forgive me, but it's increasingly frustrating to read and hear comments accusing the paper of advancing a bias — strangely, it's been accused of leaning both ways at one point or another during my time.
And I know what's going on.
It's page four. It's always page four. Some believe a writer with an opinion (or a paper that allows public opinion to print in the form of a letter to the editor) isn't capable of providing unbiased coverage. Well, let's be frank. If that's the case, then we really need to take another look at campaign contributions in our political system...but I won't go there.
No. I'll go to the front page. Take a look. I'll wait.
Those stories aren't there because of some agenda meant to subdue the masses. They're there because they happened. It's that simple. Before I was hired, the man who would become my editor (You might know his name — it was Randy M. Cauthron) told me the paper exists for future generations. It's there so people can look back and see what truly happened, and he said there's really no other source like it.
The internet has changed a lot, but there still isn't a substitute for the local newspaper. That's not to say we don't use the digital age to get the word out — and let's not forget that's what it's really about. We post our stories, and your social media site of choice filters them for you based on what it thinks you like. But the internet can be like a dumb hunting dog sometimes. If you don't know what I mean, log onto a shopping website, click the thing you like the least and wait for the ads to start appearing the next time you're on social media. It's simple.
All it takes is a click.
The digital hands of the internet handle our stories the same way. If opinion pieces are the ones you click, react to and comment on the most, that dumb hunting dog is going to try and bring you another. But rather than training the dog, or hunting a wider range of stories, some label their local reporters and editors part of the propaganda machine, never looking past page four.
And forgetting page one.
All the pages with stories about what's happening in our — and I stress the word our — community really. We won't always agree, but it's important to know and share information that is true, or we will make no progress at all. So read the story about the protest rally. Read the story about public bible reading. Read the opinions, both left and right. Read the story about the county supervisors meeting (because, seriously, those take some real focus to write). We are tasked with chronicling what happens in our community with each and every edition accurately and honestly. It builds trust in our reporting. It builds trust in our reporters. That's how we become credible. That's how you know we're not anonymous disseminators of propaganda.
That's what's really in a byline.