I have been a columnist for the award-winning Jackson Hole News&Guide for just over a year. One of the interesting takeaways I have from the experience are my observations of the team that puts together our newspapers.
The paper’s editors, reporters and photographers welcome me to sit in on staff meetings once in a while to keep in touch on what is happening in Jackson Hole. I have been most impressed by what a smart, diligent and accomplished staff we have at our local newspaper. They are doing their best to give us an objective and honest look at what is going on in our community. An informed citizenry is one of the things that makes any community special. The News&Guide plays a huge role in making that possible.
I love listening in on the robust newsroom conversations on what should be covered and how. The whole team vets the story lines. At least one editor scrutinizes each article on first read. Two copy editors finish dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s before another editor gives the page a final look. Three photographers and two graphic designers round out the newsroom’s team.
During a 40-year career in conservation, I have dealt with reporters and editors from all over America. It is fun to see the process from the other side.
Being a reporter is much harder than being a columnist like me. As a columnist, I get to express an opinion. Reporters do not. They need to be objective and must avoid personal bias. That is the primary requirement of their profession. They are required to provide attribution — naming expert sources for the information they provide.
Columnists should get their facts right and tell the truth, but we are not required to cite sources. Reporters and their editors must question and fact-check all the information that comes their way. For example, they cannot print a press release as written. They need to verify the facts and provide the whole story.
This process can lead to harsh responses from a few readers. Last year, after reading one of my first columns, a reader emailed a note to me that ended with “f--k you.” The staff response was blase: “Welcome to journalism, Paul.”
It is part of human nature to be more likely to criticize than compliment, but the 10 to 1 ratio of negative to positive comments our community’s reporters receive seems unfair to me.
I have always admired good old-fashioned reporting. Within a short time a reporter must learn an issue well enough to write a knowledgeable and factual account of a subject and then put it out there for the public to judge. Forget privacy. Going out to dinner or to the grocery store means hearing about what you wrote about recently. Since my picture accompanies this column, I get this all the time.
All of the reporters agree that they welcome honest criticism. However, one reporter gets death threats on a regular basis. All of our reporters have recent assaults on the press on their minds. Most of them have personally been called “fake news.” President Trump’s description of journalists as “the enemy of the people” does trickle down to Jackson Hole, along with the idea that all media is biased.
With so much so-called “news” on networks like Fox or CNN now dominated by opinion panels, readers forget that real reporters are required to be objective and verify their facts. This situation is made even more confusing with so many people getting their news from the echo chamber of social media, where false rumors travel at light speed and fact checking is rare to nonexistent.
While being a reporter in a small town may be tougher than in the anonymity of a big city, the News&Guide team is unanimous that this is a good place to work. The primary reasons for this: People read the newspaper, they are engaged and they really care about our community.