I got invited this week to sit down with Harris Nussbaum for his “Faces of the Valley” TV show on cable channel 28. Ostensibly the show was supposed to be a sort of personality profile, about me and my background, but in the course of the show, Harris hit me with a really important question.
What, he asked, is the role of a local newspaper.
I had to think about that one for a moment.
“To tell you what’s going on,” I answered.
I guess that should be obvious, but there’s a deeper answer in there and we had an interesting discussion about it.
I have often said here that journalists are just regular people. Unlike doctors or lawyers, we don’t need arcane, special training. We have no official certification or professional oversight board. We’re just people who happen to carry notebooks or cameras.
In other words, we’re just like you, but we’re lucky enough to get paid to go witness events that you don’t have the time or ability to go see.
Most people can’t or won’t go to city council meetings. They may not be able to attend the high school football game, or spend time finding out why there were sirens around the city last night. Very few people are lucky enough to afford tickets to the Olympics or the Super Bowl or have the ability to attend a rally by a presidential candidate or to watch a session of the state legislature or Congress.
That’s where we come in. Journalists, I told Harris, are your witnesses. We go to these events and report back on what we saw. We talk to the people involved and tell you what we heard.
We don’t always get it right. We don’t always have access to complete information. Sometimes our interpretation is off point. But that’s not necessarily because we’re bad at our jobs – that’s because we’re humans like you. If the whole town attended the city council meeting or the high school football game in person, there would be plenty of disagreement about what happened, lots of conflicting opinions and perceptions among the witnesses.
A lot of talk lately about “the press” seems to derive from an idea that we are somehow a tribe or an interest group of our own. That misses the fundamental truth about reporters – that we’re just regular people with notebooks.
It’s kind of hard to be enemies of the people when we are just people.