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Parting Advice from Four Decades on the Front Lines of Local News

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In February 1978 I walked into the office of The Rahway News-Record and Clark Patriot to begin what I thought was to be a short-term job stepping stone. 

Instead, it turned out to be a nearly 40-year odyssey in local journalism—including the last eight—overwhelmingly great—years with The Alternative Press (TapInto.Net).

I have decided it is time to spend more time in developing and fulfilling my personal story and relaxing in the evening at home rather than rushing to cover municipal meetings. These meetings have become increasingly more tedious for me as I enter another phase of life.

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Therefore, I will end my freelance reporting career in local journalism in suburban New Jersey at the end of November 2017.

During my time in local journalism, I have met some of the finest residents, students, athletes and public workers and officials anywhere in the United States.

I also have met some who were not quite as desirable.

Some parting words from an old reporter:

1. Social media is a great tool to stretch communications across miles and continents. It also enables families and societies to reach each other easily and to freely express their opinions on every topic.

However, with everyone on social media becoming “reporters” of the news, trained journalists now often are thought of as useless or incompetent if they perform the true function of a free press, which is to report all the news in a fair way with no preference for one side or the other.

It seems that readers, taking after their leaders, believe the only role of reporters and editors is to support the values and promote the agendas of media audiences.

To repeat a quote displayed prominently in the News-Record office—the press should exist to be “A voice for all and an echo for none.”

2. A free and open society advances best when there is an open and complete flow of information. Officials should halt all impulses to control or blockade the news. Even if an opinion expressed seems to reflect poorly on you or your organization, you have plenty of avenues in which to respond. 

Don’t stifle discussion and dialogue in the hopes of polishing the image of yourself or your organization. More information always is preferable to less information or information filtered through “spin doctors” or central information distribution channels.

Also, discourage anonymity, and when you respond don’t generalize, but point directly and precisely to the person or organization with which you want to have dialogue.

Additionally, “The Media” is not an all encompassing monolith of like thinkers. It is composed of millions of outlets, forms and flesh and blood people with widely different opinions. You can’t have an open dialogue with a generality.

3. Particularly in New Jersey, all those in media positions should work to keep the doors open for all their colleagues. 

This means recognizing we are in the Digital Age and allowing communities to save taxpayer dollars by advertising in the most economically feasible medium available.

Yes, online local hyperlocal media should be a place where any level of government can place its legal advertising, and the existence of this source should not be stifled by censorship in the large media outlets.

I do, however, agree with some opponents of these measures who say transparency would be harmed by allowing the only outlets for legal advertising to be government-sponsored websites. 

If this were allowed, officials of any locality that did not like what was reported in a media outlet would feel free to advertise only on its own website and post only public information which it thought in the officials’ best interest rather than that of the public they are sworn to serve.

We even see this currently, when some officials have used the “small print” in state statutes to remove legal advertising from local print newspapers because those papers have dared to report items which did not have the “slant” the leaders wanted.

Enough for now. I will get off my soapbox and just say it has been one helluva great run—and now is my time and I hope to make the most of it.

The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of TAPinto.net or anyone who works for TAPinto.net. TAPinto.net is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer. Click here to submit a Letter to the Editor.

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