By Silas Lyons, Editor, Record Searchlight, May 2011
Change the Reality, not the Story
Real economic development is the No. 1 thing that would improve life in our community.
This may seem like a profound statement of the obvious. Even the Democrat president and the Republican Congress can agree on jobs, jobs, jobs. But I say it because I’ve come to realize, in conversations with business leaders in particular,
that there’s some question about where we here at the newspaper stand on the matter.
When I attended a lunch Friday hosted by Economic Development Corp. President Mark Lascelles, this quickly became the focus of conversation, and the newspaper came in for some strong criticism, as well as some praise. The people around the
table are all folks who are well-respected and committed to the betterment of the community.
I think the questions are fair, and show that we should talk about this more, and publicly. So here goes.
First, the critique (or highlights):
The newspaper publishes too many stories and columns that cast the community in a negative light.
By allowing anonymous comments on Redding.com we foster negativity and give far too much weight to a handful of bitter and mean people.
We, as a newspaper, need to do more to lead and campaign for positive change.
I expect there will always be some disagreement about the role of a community newspaper. How much are we to be the watchdog? How much the promoter? How much the detached commentator?
So here’s how I see it.
First, there’s an important difference between journalists in our newsroom and the editorial board. The journalists have a professional obligation to act independently and to try to find the truth and tell it.
They’ll never get directions from me to cast a wrong as a right, or to put a positive spin on a story that’s not.
But they also write stories and take pictures of community events, good Samaritans, businesses opening and expanding, ways to improve your back yard with local plants, and places you can explore in just a short drive.
Our editorial board, on the other hand, consists of Publisher Shanna Cannon, Editorial Page Editor Bruce Ross, and me. In that role, we take positions every day on issues of local significance. If you were to review them over a period of weeks
and months, you’d find they are guided by a desire to see this community improve and become more prosperous. They also call out rascals, from time to time, and occasionally point out hypocrisy and inefficiency.
I’m not sure that we always get the balance just right between shining a clear, harsh light on the realities of our community and casting the same spotlight on the stories of success, humanity and cooperation that are all around us. We need
to spend time on that question. I do know that going all the way one way or the other would be disastrous.
As for economic development, I believe the most important thing we have to do is to change the reality, not the story. Which brings me to another point, about comments.
Many of the complaints are absolutely valid. Look for a significant new approach to this on Redding.com in the near future. We’re working on a system that seeks to address that not by stifling conversation, but by rewarding and incentivizing
the useful and insightful stuff.
But I also believe that the Internet’s gift of a voice to some of the crankiest contrarians is not all bad. Yes, I too just wish they’d shut up when a business is considering locating here and they start in on how horrible Redding is, or how
business people are just greedy so-and-sos in cahoots with the City Mafia, or whatever nonsense.
But I don’t advocate cutting off this freewheeling conversation. I think it needs to be improved, but again I think it’s the reality we have a problem with. The Internet just gives us a way to see how disconnected and unhappy a lot of people
in the community feel, and how bitter many are about it.
Finally, there’s the point about the newspaper’s leadership. Over the years, this paper and its editorial board have led many campaigns to improve the community. More recently, our coverage and editorial positions helped generate widespread
outrage over the way a massive power transmission project was going to be affecting our communities with very little input.
I take to heart the message that we need to do more.
I only speak for myself in this space. I believe one focus of our efforts should be anything that helps bring jobs and create an economic base. We won’t do that by papering over the bad or shying from controversy. But we can do it by telling
the truth and, as an editorial board, advocating what this newspaper’s early founders called “the material upbuilding of the community”.