I operated under a number of principles during more than 30 years in daily print journalism. I always sought to be fair; accuracy was critical.
I also never took myself more seriously than I took my craft.
The readers of the newspapers where I worked all served as great equalizers. I started my newspaper reporting career full time in 1977 at the Oregon City (Ore.) Enterprise-Courier; I gravitated in 1984 to the Beaumont Enterprise in Texas; and then in 1995 I moved on to the Amarillo Globe-News.
All along the way I contended with readers who shared a common quality. They generally lived in the communities we covered. Thus, they had skin in the game; they had vested interests in their cities and towns.
So if I wrote something with which they disagreed and they took the time to call me to discuss their disagreements I tended to take them seriously.
I tried to learn something about the communities where I worked. Readers often were great teachers. They would scold me. They would chide me. They mostly were respectful when they disagreed with whatever I wrote, how I reported a story or offered an opinion on an issue the newspaper had covered on its news pages.
I always sought to return the respect when they called.
To be sure, not everyone fit that description. More than few of them over all those years were visibly, viscerally angry when they called to complain. I tried to maintain a civil tongue when responding to them. I’ll be candid, though, in admitting that at times my temper flared.
I usually didn’t mind someone challenging the facts I would present in a news story, or in an editorial, or in a column. I did mind individuals who would challenge my motives, or ascribe nefarious intent where none existed.
And every once in a great while I would a reader challenge my patriotism and even my religious faith. That’s where I drew the line.
However, over the span of time I pursued the craft I loved from the moment I began studying it in college I sought to maintain a level of perspective. I took my job seriously. I always sought to remember that all human beings are flawed.
It kept me humble.