A word on behalf of newspapers

Philip Graham, former publisher of the Washington Post, is credited with saying that the newspaper is the first rough draft of history.  The notion of the newspapers as a rough draft is a good one.

In my work, I have the opportunity to interview a wide range of people about a variety of public issues and public institutions.  Newspapers are not people’s favorite institutions.  It’s typical for people to complain that newspapers are too incomplete, misleading, and "biased."

When it comes to St. Vrain School issues, it is not uncommon for people in our communities to be critical of the Times-Call.

Let me suggest for your consideration that one of newspapers’ deficiencies lies not with the newspapers at all but with we newspaper readers.  I would suggest we have unrealistic expectations of newspapers.

Daily news is reported in a matter of hours and must be made to fit space constraints.  This daily news is, indeed, a rough draft.

We should read the newspaper to pique our curiosity rather than for definitive information from which to draw conclusions.  Indeed, newspaper reporters should begin every one of their articles with this preface:  "You should check this out more for yourself if you find it of interest but here’s something I’ve learned" (of course to do that in practice would be tedious and absurd).

Now, I’m not suggesting that newspapers should be let off the hook for enduring journalism values such as accuracy and fairness.  Those standards are essential.

My brief experience with the Times-Call as a public official, as one example, I’ve been treated very fairly.  The articles written about meetings I’ve attended or have been part of have been accurate.  It also is true that these newspaper articles have not included all the nuance or complete context of the issues.  But that is the very nature of a first rough draft.

I had a chance to talk to a group of Skyline High School students about news coverage and I encouraged them to be curious first and jump to conclusions second (after you’ve done some homework on your own).  I encourage that of us all and to cut newspapers a little bit of slack.

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One Response to “A word on behalf of newspapers”

  1. Lindsey Says:

    In my experience, newspapers struggle to be as accurate as they possibly can at the time of print. I should know; I was a journalism major:)

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