Things get messy in the middle of the road
I can keep quiet no longer! It's the phrase that has been bubbling in my brain since last week and it came to a boiling point about five minutes ago.
Last week a community leader approached me to inform me that he just didn't think I understood how articles about the school should be written; that we had been too negative in our word choices in our most recent article about the levy.
I stopped in my tracks and had to ask him if he was referring to the article on the front page of last week's Focus - the one about how the levy had finally passed.
Yep, that was the one, he said.
My response was - are you kidding me?!
He went on to explain that someone had called him up and said The Forum had written about the levy passing using better word choices and that I should look at their article to see how those choices made it a more positive read.
Frankly, I was offended.
The Forum's article was succinct and to the point. However, in regards to our article, I did not find anything negative about it.
So I let it be... until today.
Five minutes ago, I received a letter to the editor from Merle Hexum. His letter appears in this week's paper. Please note the last line in Mr. Hexum's letter: "Does the biased opinion of the entire EOT Focus editorial staff represent a huge void in fair and balanced news reporting?"
For those of you who are familiar with Mr. Hexum's letters, he isn't criticizing us for being too negative about the school. His opinion is just the opposite.
So one person says we're too negative, another that we're not tough enough.
To be fair, Mr. Hexum's distaste was for the editorial that appeared in last week's paper, not the front page story that the community leader was complaining about. Still, the two are a part of the same newspaper.
You can paint it any way you like, using whatever positive words you choose, but getting the school levy passed has been a tough road for Perham.
We have tried to report on this issue as fairly as possible, but have also utilized our right to take a stand by publishing an editorial. This stand was taken, not to influence voters in any way (it did come out after the results were in, after all), but more to offer congratulations and thanks to the school district. This levy was needed, and more than likely more will be needed down the road. It's not the fault of the students, the school administration or the school board - it's an issue faced by rural districts statewide.
The thing about the Focus is this - we are not the public relations firm for anyone.
We do a lot to support the communities we serve. We cover community events with articles before and after, write stories about benefits for individuals in need, and promote fundraisers for organizations that benefit different aspects of the community. We run photos of kids in sports, three generation photos, engagement, wedding, birth announcements and obituaries, and chronicle the history of the communities in which we serve. We cover high school sports, school news, city government, county government and the police news. We are the place people look to tell the story of the community - the story of the entire community, not just one person or group's biased version of that story.
In a conversation I had with the editor last week, she said it best: We are here to cooperate with the school, the city and the county, but we're not here to be controlled by them. Our job is to look at all the facts so we can write the truth.
When we are criticized by people on both sides of an issue, that's when we know we're doing our job right.