“Just the truth, ma’am”

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In this post-facts era, it’s still true that journalists record history one day at a time. In community journalism, that role as chronicler of current events gains even greater significance because size and proximity often allow editors the rare privilege to tell a man’s story from the beginning of his life to the end.

No alternative facts here, just the truth, ma’am.

Reporting the truth exacts a fierce accountability and demands an unbiased perspective: verified, corroroborated and attributed.

There’s a lot at stake here, because unlike our counterparts at anonymous big-city dailies, community journalists know our readers, recognize them at the ball park, at church, in line at the grocery store.

And as LareDOS holds up a mirror to the communities it serves, laying out the facts while always striving to reflect the goodness of people, sometimes the reflections are less than positive.

And when the news isn’t good, the same proximity that provides access also provides instant feedback. If we get something wrong, we’ll hear about it just as fast as you can say, Twitter, Facebook and Tía Delfina.

Our shared experience tells us that some folks believe it’s the media’s fault.

That’s one of the basic tenets of newspapering that John Steinbeck learned firsthand during his stints as a reporter. In his memoir “Travels with Charley,” Steinbeck recounted newspaper assignments during which he witnessed mistreatment of migrant farm workers in post-Depression California.

Describing the negative reader reaction to his stories, Steinbeck said when people get caught doing something they’re not proud of, they come to believe that the witness is the one who caused the trouble.

As witnesses to history, journalists fit Steinbeck’s description of a troublemaker.

Fast forward a half-century to a political climate in which some people believe journalists are the enemy of the American people. What’s really happeneng is that people are getting caught doing something they’d rather not read about in the news.

Labeled as traitors and liars, banned from news conferences, attacked and heaped with scorn, American journalists are doing their jobs.

Reacting to this piling-on criticism aimed at news organizations, The New York Times is touting a new campaign that says America needs the “truth, now more than ever.”

Of course, the truth is what keeps America free. What we truly need now more than ever are courageous, credible journalists who will continue to dig for that truth regardless of the yammering critics at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue or city hall or the county courthouse.

There are blathering wags who say journalists seek out the sensational, juicy stories, heedless of attribution or evidence, but I don’t know of any legitimate reporter who approaches the job that way. (Full disclosure: nor do I know any reporter who would turn down a great story that might also happen to sell additional newspapers.)

LareDOS is devoted to telling the stories of a community, celebrating the wondrous, striving to enlighten. Ever a witness. Holding up that mirror so we can appreciate the shining moments and polish away the tarnished spots.

Even when we must report the sad, the nefarious, the ugly, something good usually will result: Overthrown corruption, resolution of conflict, a triumph of spirit.

As long as we are loyal to what’s best for our community – in Laredo, Texas, and across the globe – history will define journalists as witnesses and, yes, troublemakers.

At LareDOS, we’re proud of that legacy and looking forward to making a difference in our own small corner of the world.

Wanda Garner Cash is a native Laredoan, and a former newspaper reporter, editor, owner and publisher. She retired in 2016 as a professor at the University of Texas in Austin where she served as associate director of the School of Journalism.

6 thoughts on ““Just the truth, ma’am”

  1. This is a great article about reporting the truth, Wanda.
    And your so right about the “shoot the messenger” part.
    So Meg, you make me and many proud that you continue to report the”Truth”.
    It’s like Pingo used to say “No hay mal que por bien no venga”

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