I’ve been a newspaper reporter for more than half a century and have written thousands of stories over those five decades.
Most of them were correct and complete but sometimes I get something wrong.
My first story for The Floyd Press in 1963 — 55 years ago — covered activities in the county circuit court. It also led to a letter to the editor about the story. A relative wasn’t happy about the story.
She didn’t challenge any of the facts in the story but she didn’t like the idea that what happened to her kin ended up in the paper.
Editor Pete Hallman, who also owned the paper back then, explained to her that the story was news and presented objectively. She then wanted to know why I did not interview her relative so he could “tell his side of the story.”
Hallman pointed out that the defendant chose not to testify and the story presented what happened in the paper. “We don’t let either side — prosecution or defense — use the Press to retry what happened in court.
When Amy and I moved to Floyd in late 2004 — a return for me — Floyd Press editor Wanda Combs asked me to cover courts, the county board of supervisors. It was a return home after five decades of covering and dealing with local, national and international issue as a newspaperman.
Combs often gets phone calls, emails or sometimes personal visits from someone who didn’t like what I write in a court story. Even after 55 years, some things never change.
The court has changed. Back in the 60s, it met once a month. Now it hears cases at least once a week on Tuesdays and sometimes on other days. Dockets are longer. Crime is up in Floyd County, just as it is in most of the rest of the country.
Sometimes, mistakes do occur. A name or an age is wrong. Judge Marc Long or Commonwealth’s Attorney may amend a charge and the wording might be incorrect. I’m human. I make mistakes — on purpose — but that mistake, when learned, is corrected in the next edition of the paper.
Other claims say I have a personal bias and take delight in writing about people who get into trouble.
Both claims are wrong. Yes, I do know some of the people charged — more likely in a small town — but in most cases, I don’t know the defendants. In either case, I hold no biases as a reporter and I take no delight in writing about their run ins with the law.
Some say I’m error-prone. When I ask for examples, the answer is usually “I don’t have specifics but that is what I’ve heard.”
If my stories were filled with errors, neither Wanda of BH Media, which owns The Floyd Press — would allow me to keep writing. I have stories published in other BH newspapers and the company owns The Roanoke Times, my home as a reporter from 1965 to 69.
I try, as hard as I can, to make sure each and every story I write for The Floyd Press is factual and objective. I have served as an opinion columnist for other papers — including the Roanoke Time, The Telegraph in Alton, Illinois, and for political news website (Capitol Hill Blue) and my local blog (Blue Ridge Muse).
I have also written guest columns for other newspapers — including The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune and the Wall Street Journal.
Sadly, objectivity is a dying art form with many forms of media. Partisan news sites like Fox News and MSNBC have — in my opinion — presented partisan articles as “news.” That, I feel, is a mistake.
As a reporter who sometimes writes articles that spotlight criminal, illegal or unethical activity of local people I propose a challenge:
If you feel an article contains incorrect information or presents material base on data that is incorrect or incomplete, please contact me via email, personal message on Facebook and in person and I will listen to their complaint, recheck the information and — found to be wrong — correct that report and apologize to those affected.
Please, don’t just say “you get everything wrong” or “you are biased.” Give me details where you think mistakes are made and, if they were wrong, they will be corrected and I will publicly admit my failure to get it right.
I can’t fix something is if no one comes forward. I will respect the privacy of those who contact me and I will correct anything that I can find is wrong.