In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I’m writing a column on what I’m thankful for. My gratitude extends to many things–my health (still good as I turn 78 this month), a wonderful family, good friends, to name a few.
I’m especially thankful today for the freedoms I have as an American, and in particular the freedom of the press. I’m grateful that this freedom extends not only to big- city papers but also to small-town newspapers like The Westside Express.
When Gene Lieb started the Westside Express 18 months ago, I came aboard because I believed (and still believe) strongly in a hometown newspaper. I recognized that we would be providing for the communities of Los Banos, Dos Palos, Firebaugh and Santa Nella an opportunity for readers to see in one publication the key community news and events each week.
I have come to realize that The Westside Express is also, as so many American newspapers have been since 1776, an advocate for “responsible journalism” (a phrase I’ve borrowed from longtime journalist Martin Baron).
In a time in America when objectivity and accuracy seem to be devalued, newspapers, including small hometown papers like The Westside Express, need to keep up with the tradition of responsible journalism that goes back to Ben Franklin and Tom Paine.
I was reminded of all this while reading Martin Baron’s new book, “The Collision of Power.’” Baron, born in 1954, has spent his whole life as a journalist. As a high school student in Florida, he was editor of his school’s newspaper.
As a college student at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, he was the editor of his university’s newspaper, while earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in business.
After college he worked as a reporter for the Miami Herald, the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times. Then he served as editor for the Miami Herald, the Boston Globe and the Washington Post. While he was editor, those newspapers earned several Pulitzer Prizes for reporting. He knows his journalism.
After retiring in 2021, Baron worked on “The Collision of Power.” In this book he uses the term “responsible journalism” in the epilogue and takes care to explain it.
News reporters and editors “must work hard and honestly to discover the truth,” Baron writes, “and we should tell the public unflinchingly what we learn. We should endorse free speech and understand that vigorous debate over policy is essential to democracy.
“I believe journalists can best honor those ideals,” he continues “by adhering to traditional professional principles. Too many norms of civil discourse have been trampled. We should uphold ours.
“At all times,” Baron writes, “we have to hold fast to standards that demonstrate we are practicing our craft honorably, thoroughly, fairly, with an open mind and with a reverence for evidence over our opinions. In short, we should practice objective journalism.”
The Westside Express, I believe, works diligently to practice responsible journalism. In a small way this newspaper is paying homage to our country’s founding fathers, who believed that freedom of the press was so important they included it in the first amendment to the Constitution in the Bill of Rights. They wrote that “Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech or of the press.”
I’m one of the editors of The Westside Express (a volunteer), along with my co-editors Courtney Andrade and Camryn Carpenter, two talented students who have taken advanced journalism courses at California State University, Stanislaus. The three of us work as a team in pursuit of responsible journalism.
We ask all of our reporters–including students at Los Banos, Pacheco, Dos Palos and Firebaugh Highs Schools, as well as students at the Los Banos Campus of Merced College—to remember the key principles of responsible journalistic
reporting: accuracy and objectivity. Subjectivity should be kept to the opinion page.
Our editorial goal is for reporters to present the facts and then to verify the information and quotations in each article, allowing the readers to draw their own conclusions. To be sure, this is a goal. We don’t always succeed, but we try, in each article we publish.
My hope is that somewhere Ben Franklin and Tom Paine and the rest of our country’s founding fathers are smiling, thankful for our efforts.