Teri Orr: It’s about the media….
November 21, 2014
For most of my adult life and all my years in Park City, I have been involved with journalism. Sometimes as lofty as being editor of this paper, sometimes being a stringer for The Salt Lake Tribune. In between, there were some national publications, a short stint at KPCW and some other stuff, but the bulk of my work has been here, at/in this paper.
And I have been an all-around news junkie all these years.
I watched all the news networks. Read multiple newspapers. News magazines. Listened to NPR. A lot. A tiny bit of talk radio from time to time. Conversations with other journalists in cafes and bars and honest-to-god (it was another time) smoke-filled rooms. And here’s the thing — while not actual news junkies, most of friends read one paper at least. Watched a favorite news channel. Argued a bit, alone in their car, with a radio newscaster.
Around the water cooler we talked about the war (there is sadly always a war to talk about somewhere). We talked politics because, well, that’s the currency of our country/community. We talked about medical and scientific discoveries and the passing of a legend. There were civics classes at secondary school and current events in elementary schools.
We read non-fiction books. And we chewed and chewed and chewed on it all. And our responsibility to tell the story. Without opinion — as a news piece and — with thoughtful, discourse as a clearly marked editorial.
If you’ve never been a journalist it might be hard to imagine the kind of combat feeling you live with. Keeping your head down in the market. On your day off. After you wrote a tough piece about local government city, county, planning, recreation, school board — because all politics in a small town are emotional — they affect your house, your neighborhood, your kids, your trails, your (public) tennis court/golf course.
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There were weeks that became months that I would only trust the opinions (good or bad) of other journalists.
When I stopped being a day-to-day journalist I was still a news junkie — those behaviors didn’t change. Writing a weekly column rarely resulted in any rants in the produce department from an irate reader. So I forgot what it felt like. For a really long time.
And the news business changed. There were so many stations there was no single trusted source of news. The airwaves became both more cluttered and more filtered (by subscription) and we all cherry picked those places we got our information. And then we started getting less even though there was strangely more available. There was Salon online and The New York Times and Good and Yes! and Huffington Post and The Guardian and Al Jazeera and it was free. We were/are drowning in information.
And then the Arab Spring came, which brought the dictators fall and in that instant, we learned we were all journalists. Anyone with a cell phone. And it was heady and thrilling and it still is, in countries where a free press doesn’t exist and hiding information controls the lives of the people who live there.
There are now 27 amendments to the original Constitution . But the first, the first thing they realized a thriving democracy needed to have, was a safe, free and vocal press. Independent. Because it was the only legitimate way to keep the new democracy honest. Question it. Reflect. The amendment "prohibits the making of any law…abridging the freedom of speech, infringing on the freedom of the press…"
So when it popped up on my newsfeed that the president’s speech on immigration was not going to be broadcast by the major networks, I was both livid and sad. And when you dug down to the reason(s) it seemed to land squarely on ratings for popular shows that might be displaced for a few minutes. Might be delayed… so millions of people could learn of their fate in a country where they work and live and raise their children in the shadows of the law.
I swear I would say this if Bush was still in office — we need to hear from our president on the rare occasions he chooses to speak directly to us. We need to hear the information together, at the same time, if possible, so when the conversation starts, the second he has finished, suddenly filled with pundits, we have some context.
This has been an especially difficult year of news stories to cover locally. And while there are, always have been, letters to the editor as a place for named readers to comment on your work, now there are comment rooms and blogs and spaces where anonymous trolls lurk under the bridges journalists have tried to build.
It must be sad to choose to spend your life in the dark.
To all the reporters (and the publisher and editor) at The Park Record — to the news crew at KPCW and to the new online Park Rag, I am thankful for each of you. For your long hours, your covering the meetings we cannot make, your informed opinions. For your thick skins and brave hearts. For your passion and your commitment to tell us the story. All of them, really. And to give us filters to understand what we are seeing/hearing.
This week we have a holiday devoid of religion that allows a few moments of reflection, before the feast. I am fortunate to have my little family to share the day with, no matter what we choose to eat (we have bypassed turkey on occasion in favor of Chinese food and an afternoon movie binge). In my list of blessings will be a free press with multiple voices in a small town. It is one of the many reasons I am grateful to spend my Sundays in the Park…
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the organization that provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.