Beware of “opinion” writers

By George Smith

To an editor, publisher, columnist or investigative reporter, personal insults or fits of screaming heebie-jeebies by members of the public over something written cannot be taken to heart.

Those brave souls of print and electronic media have a job, an important job, to do. Period.

In more than 50 years of writing, typing and computering editorials, analyses and commentary on everything from the price of silver and how and why it effects everyday citizens to city council and county court faux pas, from instances of fraud or pure political bedevilment by elected officials to uncloaking crooked law enforcement officers, and from outing pot smokers and alcoholics in newspapers’ pressroom to teachers faking standardized test scores … the stories and follow-up opinion pieces must be written.

For many opinion writers, it’s a simple task to judge the public reaction of articles before they are written; after a time in the gossip-caldron around the coffee machine or café table, the majority of folks (even those who did not read the article) to form a “fir” or “agin” opinion.

There have been times when my fingers paused before pounding out a statement of opinion that I knew would not sit well with some friends, co-workers or family members. That poignant pause did not last long; I seemed to always “err” on being true to myself, rather than bow down to outside forces that hovered about.

I have always bound myself to the personal rule that nothing I write is intended to evoke support or choruses of Huzzah! from anyone, from readers to company executives; my opinions were my own and aimed at doing nothing but provide, hopefully, an environment of thought for someone…for anyone. And on the opposite side of the commentary spectrum, I have never written an article with the sole intent of upsetting any person or group, but did believe in advance that something I wrote would be upsetting to someone.

As an editor and/or publisher in myriad cities in four states, I have been a member of various civic clubs. Rotary, for the most part, was my preferred club because in many chapters the local movers-and-shakers are members; being a part of that group is a good way to keep abreast of any errant changes in a community’s business pulse.

Before I joined any Rotary Club, I made it clear that Rotary’s Four-Way Test created a problem for a member who peddled news and opinion for a living. The Four-Way Test, repeated at most clubs at every meeting, is:

  • Is it the TRUTH?
  • Is it FAIR to all concerned?
  • Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?

I had no problem with Nos. 1 and 2, but Nos. 3 and 4 sometimes got a little dicey for a newshound. For example, writing a story about a fellow Rotarian who is charged with embezzlement probably wouldn’t pass the “smell” test for the last two questions.

If what I wrote/write is TRUE and FAIR (meaning the facts are right and all known sides of an issue are given), that had to be a good enough standard of excellence for any published works, printed or electronic.

I can think of several hundred times when reporting on a story and a personal commentary let to unrelenting verbal abuse, even picketing and boycotting of the paper. On two occasions, I was physically assaulted because of an opinion column or an editorial.

Writing about unpleasant occurrences that one knows is going to cause heartache and emotional problems should never be taken lightly. Every effort must be taken to give both sides of any controversial news story (and, sometimes, there is only one side and at other times, multiple sides) and give equal treatment when appropriate.

Some readers do not see the difference in a news story and an opinion column or editorial; that is where a lot of misperception and anger enter into the situation.

A news story should be fair and balanced (not the Fox News “fair and balanced” type of presentation or the Al Sharpton one-issue programs) with information given to views/readers to allow them to dissect it and make up their own mind about relevance.

Opinion programming or stories are simply opinions tossed up in the air like wheat, often filled with pabulum-like fillers and buzzwords to give a one-sided perspective to an issue.

But stop and think: There’s nothing wrong with that, really. You have opinions, as do I and so does everyone else. Opinions are cheap to come by; many people form them after just overhearing a conversation or by reading a headline or hearing a one-sentence screed on talk radio or TV.

In the world of reputable opinion writers, opinions are the fruits of often-intensive research and examination and are intended to enlighten, inform, entertain and educate the audience.

Of course, there are those writers who simply want you to follow their ideology as presented without thought or research. They are the charlatans of the opinion world and are as deadly intellectually to their “flock” as are many evangelistic preachers who spend more time talking about money as they do about God.

Good writers? Bad writers? They are out there in droves. The hard part is figuring out which is which. But you can use the first two steps of Rotary’s Four-Way Test as a good starting point.

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Circumference of Me – Chapter 12

12. The mind is a terrible thing in haste

Being able to work quickly can be a big help when that ability is combined with two definite attributes: accuracy and efficiency.

Unfortunately, “quick” and “sloppy” are more apt to be placed together in your personnel file than “quick” and “exceedingly accurate and productive.”

Any employee can be quick. Moving that ability to a high level of competence, thereby increasing the confidence of higher-level managers in your abilities, is a life-long chore.

Honestly, workers who are normally quick and accurate do occasionally turn out some sloppy work.  

You know you’ve done it, too: The quickly composed e-mail with an attachment – which was not attached; the report built from a template and the date the report was made was not changed; the expense report with a missing receipt; the e-mail you sent without stopping to check whether it went out to all recipients who should have been included in the information-dissemination chain …

As you enter your chosen profession, work to enhance your skills to be accurate, efficient, and on time before you combine those three with quick.

Refrain from poisoning your corporate profile with a quick response, of which the sole attribute is that you finished it in record time.

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Circumference of Me – Chapter 10

10 See the C’s. Be the C’s ambitions

There are three C’s that managers take to the Everyday Business Bank: Cooperation, coordination, communication.

A survey of the world’s top corporate managers would reveal startling similarities among their management techniques. Without exception, even if they use different words in different ways with different emphasis, all would agree that the Three C’s are the defining differences between passable managers and ones destined to be remembered as difference-makers.

Cooperation embraces ideas that come from other people and other departments or organizations, and their value. It is not a simple give-and-take action, but a give-and-receive method of operation with far-ranging benefits. The very basis of cooperation is two-way communication — it binds groups and individuals to a central project.

Coordination between the same entities deepens the personal, intellectual, and corporate relationships between them. One group’s success hinges on the actions of the other group’s participants. It is the corporate equivalent of the group hug.

By now, you can tell the most important of the three C’s is positive and uplifting communication.

Far too many projects die horrible, screaming deaths; far too many careers crash and burn; far too many companies suffer because of people’s inability to talk to other people.

Regardless of your charismatic qualities, personal commitment to success, basic leadership abilities, vision, creativity, or multi-tasking acumen, you cannot become a great manager without the ability to accurately convey ideas to others, paint word images that can be easily seen by others, or effectively communicate verbally or with the written word.

If you are not an accomplished communicator, don’t sit around and whine internally about your shortcoming. Do something about it. Take a business communications course from a local college or university or online. Read recommended books about leadership and management techniques.

Be proactive about communication, one of the most important of all management traits.

While sheer will and determination can perform miracles, those attributes have only short-term value. Even the most gifted leader cannot be successful without working for, with, and through others. As a matter of undisputed fact, there is no one-person major company.

Even the Lone Ranger had Tonto.

Great managers constantly search for ways for their efforts and the efforts of people in their department to help other departments and managers succeed for the good of the business.

Good managers become great managers by building coalitions through mutual respect, and offering assistance on common projects. Building a strong partnership on a single project can help you climb innumerable rungs on your career ladder.

Seeking a successive string of promotions and title enhancements is a sign of a focused manager. Managers only interested in bigger titles may get them, but they might be the only goals they attain, at the cost of greater and more valuable goals, like gaining deserved responsibility and respect through your ability to address challenges responsibly. Do that, and your titles will come.

A title is only as good as the character of the person who holds it.

Great managers never let their egos, turfs or quests for titles interfere with the primary goal of corporate wellness.

A mixture of a strong grasp of reality and a helpful spirit pours the foundations of strong corporate careers.

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Things Don’t Age Well in Marshall

By Ron Munden

Recently I received a couple of calls from people telling me that I really needed to go down and look at Marshall’s Wonderland of Lights carousel.  At the end of last week, I found the carousel and took a picture.

I though that the City paid $60,000 for the carousel but I was told that the number was $80,000.  I do know that when the City purchased it, they were not aware that it had a three-phase electric motor.  There is no three-phase power available on the Courthouse Square so the City had to swap out some of its electronics before it could be used and that did add additional cost.

While I questioned the City spending money on a carousel, I agreed it was a very attractive addition to Wonderland of Lights.  That was the first year.  I was told the canopy was damaged during the disassembly at the end of 2015.  The canopy has not been used since that first year.

Since the canopy was critical to the appearance of the carousel, the City was able to turn a first-rate carousel into a third-rate carnival ride in one year.

Even though the City purchased a trailer for storing the carousel, in the last few years many of the major components of the carousel have not been put in the trailer and stored outdoors in the weather for 10 months each year.

It is my understanding that some of the gears are now faulty and must be replaced before the next WOL. Another questionable expenditure for the City.

The bad news is that Marshall will never have an attractive carousel again.  The good news is that I shot lots of pictures of the carousel before it entered Marshall’s accelerated aging program.

Look at the photos of the carousel Marshall had but will never have again.

Click here to view the slideshow of Marshall’s carousel in 2015.

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Circumference of Me – Chapter 7

7 Business bugaboo No. 1

A trio of business bugaboos derails more projects, more careers, and more companies than all other factors combined:Ego, turf and titles.

Let’s deal with ego first, and get one thing straight, quick: Every successful manager in history has had a strong ego and sense of self. Every one understood and appreciated the necessary boundaries of division of labor within a company, and all tried to mesh their operations or project goals with the company’s mission. Every single one of them sought advancement in the corporate ranks.

Having a strong ego is part of the development and makeup of every successful manager. But having a big ego is not the same as having confidence in one’s abilities or the ability to view one’s accomplishments and potential in a realistic spotlight. It’s a fact that many managers are not as good as they think they are. Many sell their attributes short, and many potentially great managers have not developed the attitude or temperament to believe in their own abilities.

A strong ego, tempered by realism, is priceless for a steady, uphill climb on the corporate ladder. But developing an ego as a positive personality trait, like the making of a fine wine, must be done under strict parameters, with little room for experimentation.

Confidence is just another word for ego … minus the obnoxious gene.

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