Neutral journalism: I found some

A local paper in Jones County, Mississippi, published a front-page story entitled “Historic Wedding” about a lesbian couple in the local community who were recently married.  Naturally, the paper got a ton of feedback (mostly negative) from its local readership, which both saddened and infuriated me.  The owner of the paper, Jim Cegielski, wrote a response entitled “Doing Our Job” that contains a few gems of journalistic wisdom:

weddingThe job of a community newspaper is not pretending something didn’t take place or ignoring it because it will upset people.

Most of the complaints seem to revolve around our headline, “Historic Wedding” and the fact that we chose to put the story on the first page. My answer…is pretty simple. You don’t have to like something for it to be historic. The holocaust, bombing of Pearl Harbor and the Black Sox scandal are all historic…whether you liked the story or not, the first known gay wedding to take place in Jones County is still historic.

Many of the calls received had the caller stating something to the effect, “I don’t need my children to read this.” Ugh. We have stories about child molesters, murders and all kinds of vicious, barbaric acts of evil committed by heinous criminals on our front page and yet we never receive a call from anyone saying “I don’t need my child reading this.” Never. Ever. However, a story about two women exchanging marriage vows and we get swamped with people worried about their children.

You have every right to cancel your subscription…But you have no right to berate and belittle anyone on our staff.

Color me amazed.  I didn’t want the people working at this paper getting only negative feedback, so I wrote an encouraging email to the editor, and the following exchange did not disappoint.  Warning: Beware of feels.

Hi there,
I recently read a story about the headline you ran regarding a “Historic Marriage” and the following backlash your paper and its staff received from the local community.  I also read about Mr. Cegielski’s response to said complaints.
I was very impressed by Mr. Cegielski’s statement in defense of this story’s publication.  The points he made about the lack of negative response regarding stories about murder, rape, molestation, etc., and the fact that “historical” are not always pleasant were both right on the money.  I am so pleased with this public statement in defense of journalistic integrity and the staff who work at the paper.  Well done.
I live in Los Angeles, but I’ve bookmarked your newspaper’s website and will visit it often to increase traffic to your site.  I hope your paper continues to uphold the same high standards of journalistic integrity in the future.

Thank you, [tigerlilytoph] … I can’t wait to pass on your kind words to our staff. It will mean a lot after so much hate-filled criticism.
I appreciate you for taking the time to write!
Mark  
_____
Then I heard from Jim, the owner of the paper who wrote the op ed in defense of running the story.
_____
Hi [tigerlilytoph]:

Mark forwarded your email onto me and I just wanted to add my gratitude and thanks for your kind message.
Warmest Regards,
Jim Cegielski
Laurel Leader-Call
_____
So I wrote a probably-too-long email back:
_____
Hi Jim,
It was my pleasure, and well deserved.  An impartial news source is not easy to find, so I was delighted that your response to all the negative feedback you got was to point out that the job of a news organization is to report just that: the news.  Not what people want to hear, or a political opinion on current events, just facts.

Although I’m a strong supporter of equal rights for all, I’m glad you didn’t cite any personal bias (no matter what it might be) on that topic as your reasoning for reporting that story.  The fact is, if I wanted to read individuals’ opinions of current events, I’d look to blogs instead of news outlets.
Please give my warmest wishes to your staff.  I know how it is dealing with wrankled customers: it sucks out loud.  They have all my support (and the support of all the friends and family whom I’ve told about your experience).  I hope they keep a good sense of humor while dealing with this and any future backlash for doing their jobs right.
In friendship,
[tigerlilytoph]
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About Toph Beifong

www.tigerlilytoph.com View all posts by Toph Beifong

One response to “Neutral journalism: I found some

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