It’s hard when you lose your identity

By George Smith

I seem, at times, to be losing my identity. 

Who am I? What am I? Who cares who I am, what I am, where I have been and what I have done? 

In what seems like a lifetime ago, I was a journalist and, at that job, like every other I ever had (except for hauling hay and picking tomatoes), I tried to be the best I could be. 

There was a time when I felt defined by my work, which, to me, most of the time was never good enough. For more than 40 years I went to work at a newspaper here or there, determined to be the first person in history, the first editor and/or publisher to put out the perfect newspaper. Never happened and assuredly never will to any editor anywhere. 

Putting together a million characters or so into a publication within a 24-hour period without making a single mistake, without a single misplaced ‘ or , or – or misspelled word, is impossible. 

In the newspaper business you go to work knowing – KNOWING! – you are going to be less than perfect. That’s a reality of the situation. You just try to be the best you can be, and it’s never good enough. 

What is a journalist?

Gleaned down to the bare basics, a journalist is a chronicler of history, an objective viewer of events and the secretary of record for a community, town, region, state, national, world. What is written and printed, for the most part, never goes away. An error in an obituary in 1867 can determine whether or not kinfolks ever meet, whether a family hero is ever celebrated, whether an evil ancestor is ever discussed in whispers around a homecoming brunch.

 Journalists (particularly community scribes) cover everything from the ridiculous to the sublime, from births to deaths, from celebratory events to tragedies. And we are supposed to do it with an objective, all-seeing eye, one that rates events by the evaluated, subjective  importance to the communities we serve.  

We sit, we watch, we report, we take the hits for our product and we move on. 

In that part of my life where I closely identified with journalism, I have viewed horrendous tragedies (“Eight crushed in I-30 accident”), astonishing events (“Teenage couple has triplets”), ridiculous examples of decision making (“Sheriff sends all-white deputies to dispel black protestors”), a bevy of “Say-huh?” incidents (“Judges whacks lawyer with gavel”) and a few unintentional laughers (“Fast-draw deputy shoots self in leg – twice!”) 

While on the job, I covered the deadly actions of a serial killer, interviewed a real-life hermit in the 1970s, whose wife had run off with a Bible salesman “sometime in the ‘20s, I think it was,” and was threatened with death more than once if I printed a certain story. 

I was fortunate to interview many politicians. I wanted information and they all wanted good press; it was a give-and-take relationship and I would like to believe I got the better of the deals and that my readers gained the rewards. 

How crazy is the newspaper business? I once was threatened to receive “the beating of your life” by an irate man who didn’t like a picture I took of his dog. An elderly woman hit me with her crutch because “you screwed up my Harvey’s death notice.” The police once stopped a truckload of men in front of my house; they had shotguns and meant to do me harm. 

A politician once called me out as a liar at a rally (“fake news” claims are not new, folks) and called me up on stage so he could lambast me in person. Of course, he didn’t think I would come; of course, I did. He started upbraiding me but didn’t say much after I pulled out my pocket recorder and played the portion of the statement in which he denied ever saying. 

“Taken out of context!” he was screaming as the crowd started laughing. 

Reporters are not supposed to be part of the story. But, and this “but” is as big as a Wyoming sunset, sometimes it can’t be helped.

The point is: Good reporters and editors do the absolute best they can on every issue. And the readers are the benefactors.
And, if anyone, especially an elected official, cries “Fake news!” about any story, my money is that it is correct in every detail.

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