By Joel Phelps
When I started The Arkadelphian in mid-summer last year, I did it for a variety of reasons.
I wanted to operate my own business and be my own boss, on my own terms. I wanted to give the citizens a central place to find local news and information. I wanted to serve as a member of the Fourth Estate for the local community. I wanted the reward of having an audience read my account of daily life in Clark County. I wanted to deliver pertinent facts that are relevant to my readers.
What I didn’t want was to stir any pots.
Sometimes it feels like that’s what my news stories do, and that’s because I report what is said at public meetings. If John Q. Public stands up and shouts at a public panel, “I think dogs are better than cats!” then, well, I’m inclined to include that in my record of observations.
Based on what everyone has said or written to me thus far, The Arkadelphian is a welcomed, long-awaited source of documenting life in this town we call home. Now I know what’s going on around town, people say. I’ve really missed your reporting, they tell me.
Well, I’ve missed doing it, for the most part. I’ve missed the occasional “I liked that article about …” compliment. I’ve missed taking boring garble and forming them into words we can all understand. I’ve missed socializing with people I otherwise wouldn’t give the time of day. Every job has its ugly side, and I’m beginning to remember the things that bothered me about being “the newspaper man.”
See, community journalism is a double-edged sword. On one edge you’ve got an organization whose goal is to provide objective facts for the betterment of the people you serve. The other edge is just as sharp — nay, oftentimes sharper — and consists of those whose objective is to steal the spotlight from the real issues.
As a gatekeeper, I’ve got to stay on my toes to ascertain that light is shone on the nucleus of the issue at hand. It’s easy to remain objective and write that John Q. Public has qualms with cats. My internal challenge is to question his motives. Why bring up your aversion for felines meeting after meeting after meeting? Are you hoping the media focuses its attention on your spiel in an otherwise dull meeting and makes the story about dogs being underrated?
The national broadcast media is notorious for including biased reporting and commentary. Their uncouth performance only trickles down to the local level, where even we little guys get blamed for making mountains of mole hills. On the rare occasion it truly is the unanticipated outburst from someone who had been silent that gives the journalist another angle on a story. If there’s no wolf, don’t cry out.
I hope my readers understand that I have their best interest at heart. You won’t find me sensationalizing the news. I will not downplay matters of local concern, nor will I fabricate any stories to boost my circulation. Anyone who has ever spent time at a news desk knows which sources are reliable and which ones to avoid, and while we might misspell a name once in a while, we never forget the sources that burn us, not even just once.
So to those of you who are taking notes of the notes I take, know that while my pen may be wildly scribbling, my mind is questioning if your words add any value to the overall truth, that you’re not just makin’ some noise.